November 10, 2014

"An Unsettling Experience"

Dear Reader,

I didn't want any trouble...I just wanted to buy a dictionary.

On June 25th, My friends and I were sitting on the green grass in front of the parliament building in Rabat, Morocco. We were waiting for some other friends because we all wanted to go buy Arabic-English dictionaries at the bookstore together. As we sat there, someone asked "Were there that many police in front of parliament the other day?" I looked over to see a line of about 20 policemen standing with riot helmets on. No. They weren't there before. Why are there so many now? My train of thought derailed when Shunhe and Shaheen (who we'd been waiting for) walked up to us. We all stood up and started strolling down the street towards the bookstore. And that's when we saw the crowd.

A bunch of chanting protesters were working their way up the street towards the parliament building... and towards us. Crap! I thought, That's why there are all these freaky, helmeted policemen! We'd been warned to steer clear of any sort of demonstrations by our program facilitators, but I was curious. The other students and I walked over and stood under an arch across the street to consider the situation. "Why don't we just stay and watch what happens from here?" I suggested. It seemed like we were a safe distance away. Anli Zhang reminded me then of the warning we had been given and said that we really ought to leave quickly and go home. As the main mass of protesters drew closer, I tried one last time to convince everyone to stay back. I shut my mouth as soon as another crowd materialized from the city behind us. They were chanting and pushing towards the parliament building in a path that would take them under the arch where we stood. When we suddenly found ourselves caught directly between the protesters and the line of riot police, the game changed. The adrenalin started flowing. The chanting grew louder. And we moved out of there. Fast. 

I turned back in time to see riot police that were hidden rush out from a building with their batons raised and fall on the angry crowd. When the protesters broke and fled, the riot police chased and beat them straight through the arch where we had been standing moments before. As soon as we'd moved far enough down the street, we all caught taxis home.

Although the rush and excitement was fun in the moment, the whole experience was unsettling.

I'm glad we got out of there when we did.


(I didn't share this before because I didn't want anyone to worry about me in Morocco. Please don't let this account turn you off from visiting the country. Though this experience was unsettling, it was certainly the exception. The people there are wonderful. I highly recommend Rabat as a travel destination.)

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