Morocco: Tea Off

By Ryan Bak, Foster Undergraduate who participated in the Triple Impact Africa Exploration Seminar in Morocco during Early Fall Start 2017. Ryan was a GBC Study Abroad Scholarship recipient. 

As-Salaam-Alaikum! (Peace be unto you! Or ‘Hello’!) This past summer I had the privilege of going on a study abroad seminar in Morocco. Beyond taking in the sites and relishing in the beautiful culture Morocco had to offer, there was a purpose behind this trip: 20 students from the UW, all studying different disciplines not limited to business, engineering, and environmental sciences, would trek up the High Atlas Mountains to the village of Asmozert in the Toubkal Valley Commune. There we would interact with the local villagers and farmers and do our best to tease out what their biggest problem was, be it agricultural, social, or financial, with the end goal to write a grant addressing that problem.

But before we could do that, we needed to arm ourselves with as much information as possible. This was done through institutional visits across the country in the cities of Casablanca, Rabat, Ifrane, and Fez. I thought the most notable institutional visit was the Jacobs Engineering Moroccan HQ in Casablanca. Not only did we learn a great deal concerning Morocco’s economic pressures and sustainability in engineering practices, we also learned about Moroccan business culture. This was not something that discussed—it was learned through experience. Inside the grey corporate boardroom packed with ties, blouses, and suit jackets, a server came in with an all-too familiar Moroccan teapot and traditional tea glasses to start the meeting. This adherence to custom was shocking to me as we had had traditional Moroccan tea served everywhere we went, but I was not expecting it inside of this very western company’s boardroom where over half the employees in attendance were from America.

Armed with new knowledge, we began our ascent up the High Atlas Mountain. Upon our arrival in the village of Asmozert, we quickly got settled in and prepared for the next day’s meeting with the lead farmers to find out what their biggest problem was. It was stilted at first, until the tea came in. Once everybody had a glass, the farmers then began to very passionately voice their cases and the meeting was officially underway.

It turned out that the farmers almost unanimously voted for school busses to transport their children to school, as they currently walked for hours each day just to get an education. After successfully writing a grant asking the High Atlas Foundation (which is partnered with the UN) for funds for the busses, I realized that from a corporate boardroom in Morocco’s largest city to a small village in the Toubkal Valley Commune, tea was embedded in social the custom of this beautiful country. Nothing started without first enjoying some tea together.