Morocco trip offers Merrimack students diverse education

Friday, May 10, 2013



Six students and two teachers from Merrimack High School spent winter vacation in Morocco learning about the local language and culture.

The trip, organized by the students’ French/Arabic teacher Mohamed Defaa, and also attended by Linda Mandra, gifted and talented teacher, was intended to be a “learn by immersion” experience with the students staying with Dafaa’s relatives, local host families and sometimes in a
hotel. Besides visiting different cities, students also volunteered for community work, talked with local students and experienced the different culture of Morocco.

“What was so amazing to me,” said Jeff Marchesano, who went on the trip with his twin brother, Matt, “was that you’d think the youth was a lot different from here. Except that over there, they listen to pop and have cell phones and are even on Facebook. It wasn’t hard to assimilate into the families.”

Marchesano has stayed in touch with some of the Moroccan people he met while on the trip.

The group stayed in Dafaa’s families’ homes for part of the trip.

“We expected nice people, but it wasn’t just that,” said Remy Watt, a senior. “The first night when we went to bed, the hostess of the house same over to us while we were sleeping and tucked us in and gave us all a kiss.”

A large part of the trip involved getting to know the country’s history. Hannah Dutton, a senior hoping to study anthropology, was particularly intrigued by the age of the buildings and sites she saw during the trip.

“The kids made fun of me, and called me ‘Rocks’ because I was so excited by experiencing and learning about the history,” She said. “I mean, we stayed in a house that was three times the age of the United States!”

Some of the cities visited included Casablanca, Marrakech, and Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. The students visited art and history museums – where the building was actually part of the exhibit – saw the mountainsides, including their first contact with camels, attended a local concert, and bargained for goods in the bazaars and local markets. At one memorable moment, the group was standing on the top of a building looking out onto a city when they heard all the mosques ring the call to prayer.

No hot dogs or hamburgers for the students on this trip, instead they dined on local specialty dishes. Each day began with a traditional breakfast consisting of hand-made pastries, coffee, juices, and homemade bread and noodles. Other meals involved meats and fresh fish purchased at local market and couscous, which according to the students’ trip blog was, “extremely different than the kind you buy in a box at Shaw’s.”

When pressed on the difference, the students simply replied that the taste was “nuttier,” “tastier,” and “had more flavor.”

And coffee. Most meals and snacks were served with coffee, cafe au lait, being the most popular drink among the students and sweet tea, traditionally served in glasses.

“I didn’t drink coffee before I went on this trip, but I do now,” said Watt, “but not as much.”

Dafaa, who grew up Morocco, said all the food is typically freshly prepared with local ingredients. Although lamb is frequently found on menus, knowing that Americans didn’t tend to prefer lamb, Dafaa had alerted many of the hostesses to instead prepare dishes using beef. Even still, some students were brave enough to try liver and lamb brain at one particular dinner.

The group got to see many of the traditions from the country including the costumes and ceremonies. Mandra had to use Dutton has her interpreter, when she became intrigued by the apparel in a wedding shop and wanted to know more information. The shop owner who was a local wedding planner gladly welcomed them into her store and then went on to explain wedding traditions for the next 45 minutes.

A highlight of the trip was when the group visited a neighborhood where Dafaa had grown up and distributed clothing and gifts to the residents.

“Giving back, not from just me, but my students, that was the best thing ever,” Dafaa said.

Several of the students hope to return to Morocco someday and some like Marchesano, who already has plans to continue world travel by studying abroad during a semester in college, will continue to make travel a part of their lives.

“This trip has made me more aware of how interconnected we all are,” Dutton said. “It’s impossible to quantify this trip in only a few sentences, so much happened.”

“For me, what I wanted students to get out of this trip was that prejudices don’t have a nation,” Dafaa said. “The Moroccans were impressed with how the kids behaved. It was not like what they had heard about American youth in the media. And,” he added, referring to the delivery of clothing and goods to the poor neighborhood, “I wanted my students to understand that donations come from the community.” For more information on and photos from the Moroccan trip, visit the students’ blog at

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