“There is no human being from whom we cannot learn something if we are interested enough to dig deep.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Over 100 days ago, I set out on a journey to see the world. I experienced, learned, and observed more than I ever imagined; felt a lifetime of emotions; and enjoyed a diverse assortment of foods and drinks. I discovered spiritual beliefs, social taboos, and health practices. I witnessed political turmoil, pollution, and unbelievable traffic.
But what stood out the most was the sense of community everywhere we went. People are essentially the same… we have dreams, hopes, and an innate need for kindness. A smile is usually met with a smile. It’s easy to judge, but easier still to accept.
Our students rose to the Semester at Sea challenge. They grew in ways that defy words, and I truly believe they (we) will make the world a better place.
P.S. Thank you for reading and sharing this adventure with
me! Special thanks to my husband and (grown) children
who supported me every step of the way, and to
my supervisors and colleagues who made my absence
“If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.” - Rachel Carson
As we left Morocco, I stood on the deck, enjoying the sea and the rain with all my senses. But the waters turned ever more turbulent, and our captain announced an unusual meeting - all 600+ passengers summoned to the main theatre for a special announcement that our itinerary had changed. Despite planning to end our voyage in Hamburg, Germany, we were headed to Lisbon, Portugal, due to a dangerous and unpredictable storm. Off we sailed, suddenly fitting final exams, celebrations, packing and disembarkation into fewer days than expected, but full of excitement and anticipation. As always, we were in the capable hands of our exceptional crew, and our final sea days went well.
Due to altered flights, many of us found ourselves with time on our hands, and a full day or more to explore Lisbon. It was both unexpected and delightful! A seaside city known for its history and Seven Hills, it is one of the oldest cities in the world. It charmed me with cobblestone streets, centuries-old cathedrals, beaches, castles, ruins, outdoor art, and colors. Spending time with my Semester at Sea friends, and enjoying a final glass of wine on yet another continent, made the adventure complete.
Next stop: Home
“Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind / Had to get away to see what we could find”
- from Marrakesh Express, Graham Nash
If you imagine Morocco as a world frozen in time, with simmering spices, colorful carpets, and intriguing snake charmers, you would be partially right. It just depends on where you look. Over 5,000 years of history have contributed to its exotic personality, and its location on the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea only adds to its appeal.
Our prehistoric ancestors inhabited this area, followed by the indigenous Berbers, then settlers from Portugal, then Arab, Spanish and French colonialists. Independent for over 50 years, Morocco blends their cultural influences, and its official languages include Arabic, Berber and French. It was fun to see signs in all three, with little English in sight.
First stop: Rabat
A SAS friend remarked that Morocco’s capital city of Rabat is similar to Washington, D.C. with its wide avenues and government seat. It is also an ancient city with incredible architecture, marble and mosaics. My highlights included Dâr-al-Makhzen, or Royal Palace, the primary and official residence of the king and his family; the Chellah necropolis, which was built in the 14th century on the site of the ancient Roman city of Sala; the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, containing the tombs of past kings; Hassan tower, intended to be the world’s largest minaret (but construction stopped in 1199 upon the sultan’s death); and the Kasbah of the Oudayas, also built in the 12th century. Not only do I appreciate being able to throw in words like sultan, minaret and kasbah, but I also appreciate that old here really means old.
Second stop: Marrakesh
We got up early the next day to make the long bus trip from Casablanca to Marrakesh. You probably just started humming Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Marrakesh Express, and this tune will be stuck in your head all day. You’re welcome.
Marrakesh is the town that felt most frozen in time. It is a colorful world of souks and bazaars (both words mean market) with local crafts, leather goods, mosaic tiles, rugs and carpets, spices, and carvings. I purchased pure argan oil and for the price, got to try my hand at grinding the argan nut as the locals do it, still by hand.
We also spent time and dirham at Jemaa el-Fnaa, a huge public square filled with small merchants, vendors, musicians, and of course, entertainers: snake charmers and fez-topped monkey trainers. Despite my animal obsession, I did not patronize either of these, knowing that just snapping a photo would cost me money and recognizing the poor treatment of these little guys
Lastly, we were lucky to visit the Majorelle Gardens, famous for its artistic landscape and beautiful plant life. It was raining lightly, and I could have wandered around all day. My camera did not do it justice.
Fun Fact: The name Morocco means “country of the sunset”. I experienced not only a beautiful sunset but an incredible full rainbow on our drive back. (Bonus: successfully graded 120 essays!)
Third Stop: Casablanca
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman fans will want to know if I visited Rick’s Cafe. There is a restaurant in Casablanca paying homage to the fictional bar, but we just saw it from the outside. There was also an historic medina and great landmarks, mosques and photo ops to be had, but my favorite memory of Casablanca will be our foodie experiences. The Central Market is frequented by locals and holds beautiful piles of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as seafood and spices. After enjoying the smells and colors there, we proceeded to a cooking studio to prepare our own lunch. The Carrefour Culinaires Ecole de cuisine et pâtisserie School featured only French-speaking chefs who instructed us on Moroccan specialties through our tour guide/translator. Our menu included saffron chicken, spicy olive relish, khobz (bread), traditional Moroccan salad, mint tea (the national drink), and pastries. We did not make the khobz or pastries, but I hope to make both when I get home!
Other foodie highlights: Morocco is well known for its tagine, a meat and vegetable stew-like dish that is slow cooked with spices such as saffron, parsley and ginger in a clay pot of the same name. We also had couscous, of course, sometimes cooked with onions and savory spices, other times tossed with almonds and dried fruit. Salads preceded our meals but instead of one tossed salad as you might expect in the U.S., we were served several small dishes, including eggplant, tomatoes and cucumbers, lentils, fermented cauliflower, etc. Best of all was the dessert we were served in two different restaurants: heaping bowls of fresh oranges and apples.
As we were driving back to the ship on our final day in country, I asked our tour guide what she would like Americans to know about Morocco. She said our women in particular would be very proud of them for their efforts at equal rights for women. She noted their current king is the first to marry a commoner and the first to allow his wife to be seen in public. She also noted this queen is involved in many activities that are fighting for fair treatment of women.
Next up: Portugal
Ghana is often considered one of the shining stars of Africa, with its achievements in democracy, peace, economic growth, and religious tolerance. It has a huge variety of ethnic groups and languages, not to mention geography that goes from coast to jungles. Sitting on the Gulf of Guinea, it’s also hard to ignore the heat and humidity!
Our trip began with a visit to Ghana’s coastal forts, not for the ocean views or salty air, but their disturbing history as home base to a slave trade that changed the world. Cape Coast had been the largest slave-trading center in West Africa, and the Cape Coast Castle (fort) has an imposing presence over the town and the sea. A UNESCO heritage site, it’s been restored to offer tours of the dark dungeons and cells, ending with a walk through the “door of no return”. A short distance away is another UNESCO heritage site, St. George’s Castle, or Elmina Castle, originally a trading post for the Dutch West India Company but later expanded to also hold and auction slaves. It was the worst day of the voyage, but necessary and impactful.
in business, land and healthcare decisions for their towns, and advocate for education, children’s welfare, and women’s rights.
Several meals in there included traditional Ghanaian dishes of fufu (pounded yam), cassava, plantains, taro leaves, jollof rice (stew with tomatoes, chicken and spiced), Red Red (bean and fish stew) and of course chocolate (Ghana is known for its cocoa!). One memorable lunch consisted of organic farm-to-table salads as well as plantains and a savory cassava chicken dish wrapped in a fresh banana leaf. Yum.
Another day, featuring a carefully planned bike trip, provided many stories to tell, both good and bad. The bikes were about 30 years old and rusty, but mostly functional with a few gears that worked off and on. Our request was a leisurely ride through villages for 2-3 hours then lunch. When we got our bikes our guide said he had a 23 km route planned out and it should take 3 hours. The first hill was so steep it took us 30 minutes to climb. Then steep downhill. Up, down, repeat - all on a rocky road with traffic. Then we reached the edge of town and turned onto a nature trail, meaning into the jungle, first on another dirt road then on a "single track" that is the width of the bike. Looking back now it's funny.
Finally, I had a field class in Tema for my Population and Food class, during which we have been discussing sustainable food production and habits all semester. We visited a local farm and got a personalized tour of their operation, which included environmentally-friendly planting, growing and fertilizing methods. On to a sustainable design studio that creates functional furniture, clothing and other items from repurposed rubbish, and uses its profits to promote education and literacy.
That takes me to my favorite question for my local hosts: What would you like Americans to know about your country? My Queen Mother companion answered without hesitation: “Ghana is a country of peace and beauty, and we are truly making an effort to improve our future by investing in education. If anyone wants to help Ghana or think about Ghana, they should know how much we value education and literacy”.
Education is neither eastern nor western. Education is education and it's the right of every human being.
– Malala Yousafzai
Next up: Morocco