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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 17, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsThe Jetsetters

Lack of alcohol makes for atypical study-abroad experience

I have been in Morocco since January and now, after about three months, I only have a week left. Morocco has been filled with some wonderful things, but also some not-so-wonderful ones. Instead of waxing poetic about great things, like the tremendous food and scenery, I’m going to talk about something that this study-abroad experience has been sorely lacking: alcohol.

It’s no secret that college students love drinking. Based off of many of my classmates’ Facebook pages, this is one of the main reasons they decided to spend a semester in a foreign country. However, as you might recall from past columns, Morocco is a strictly Islamic country. There’s no separation between church and state — or, more appropriately, mosque and kingdom. Ninety-nine percent of the population is Muslim, and, for the most part, very religious Muslims do not drink. I was not all that concerned about having a traditionally fun study-abroad experience when I decided to come to Morocco. I braced myself for the change in lifestyle before getting here. I knew what to expect. It goes without saying that there are harder things in life than going three months without drinking. For the most part it hasn’t been difficult, but celebrating my 21st birthday in this country is making me feel the cultural difference more than I normally would.

I grew up in a family of wine drinkers. To this day, I consider drinking red wine to be as much a part of being an adult as getting a job and doing your own taxes. But here, adults, for the most part, just don’t drink. My host parents would sit through every meal without so much as a soft drink. My program coordinator, Badrdine, who has escorted my group around the whole country, would sit through dinner with an orange Fanta while the rest of us ordered bottles of wine to split. Of course, many Muslims — including, predictably, college students — imbibe. Alcohol isn’t impossible to find. Most nicer restaurants serve wine, and I’ve even been to a few bars that served up mean mojitos — my theory is that this is because mint is such an important part of the Moroccan diet.

However, it’s still not that easy to get your hands on alcohol. First of all, restaurants in Rabat, the city where I’m living, are not all that common. Restaurants that serve alcohol are rarer still, and usually far out of my price range despite the amazing exchange rate — $1 equals about 10 Moroccan dirham. The bars I’ve found have been shady and filled with smoke, and it’s culturally inappropriate and dangerous for young women to go into bars alone or even in groups.

So it’s frustrating, sometimes, to see pictures of booze-soaked European study-abroads. This column will be published the day after I turn 21. As I write this, I’m still 20, but I can say for certain that my 21st birthday will not be what I thought it would be. It will not be spent with my friends in a bar or club, and I won’t get to happily produce my now above-21 driver’s license to a bartender. What I will do, probably, is walk around the medina. Maybe I’ll barter with a shopkeeper for a silver teapot or a pair of pointy-toed Moroccan slippers. I’ll probably have a quiet day in one of the nicer cafes around town. Or maybe I’ll treat myself to sugar cane juice, which is sold on the street and made by feeding a long stalk of sugar cane tipped with a lemon through a grinder. The result is like a pulpy, sweet lemonade. It’s not the perfect substitute for, say, a daiquiri from an Ithaca bar, but it’s a start.

My 21st won’t be as traditional or, let’s say it, fun as I had hoped it would be, but it certainly will be memorable, if only for the fact that I’m spending it in a foreign country that isn’t letting me be a typical American college student for a few months.

Evin Billington can be reached at ebillin1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @EvinBillington