Hello everyone! My name is Steve Anthony Maravillo and I am a 2021-2022 Gilman Alumni Ambassador originally from the city of San Bernardino, California, but am currently established in The Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. The Gilman Scholarship was an integral part of my completion of my year-long exchange at the University of Granada, Spain in the 2018-2019 academic year. This past summer, I graduated from the University of California, San Diego and am now a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
To set the stage, traveling to Morocco as a 19-year old wasn’t entirely in my plans for my last year as a teenager; however, the experience brought forth the most authentic platform for maturity and relationship building via the most amazing friends I’ve had yet. Before embarking on one of the most enlightening journeys to this date, I was extremely anxious about the experience of visiting Morocco, primarily because I anticipated everything to be entirely different to what I was accustomed to, and not entirely for good reasons. Regardless of my nerves, the numerous positive outcomes of touching ground on the most Northern point of the African continent worked well as that “push” to make the journey, all while ensuring I keep an open mind towards all the opportunities for a good time in Morocco.
The journey from the most southern point of Spain via a town called Tarifa towards Morocco via the city of Tangier was practically fairytale-esque. After traveling about two hours from Granada to the Ferry Port, then floating across two bodies of water via the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea for thirty minutes, I’d finally touched ground in Morocco. Upon arriving, I was greeted by a number of Moroccan individuals within my age group, with the most prominent individual, Nada, who was my group lead via The Moroccan Exchange Program. After a day of roaming through the Medina in Tangier and riding camels throughout the shore in Asilah, I embarked on a three-hour trip to the Moroccan capital of Rabat. The first instant of conversation between myself and these incredible people began via a table talk that was open-ended in whatever we desired to discuss about. The talk was led by two amazing folks, named Anas and Simo, who ultimately became very close friends of mine, to where I personally call them my cousins to this date. Although I was initially hesitant to speak aloud, I was curious to learn more about the presence of relatively stringent Muslim tradition among Moroccan youth and how much or how little of it is still present in Generation Z Moroccans, particularly in the Northern region in which the conversation took place in. Anas and Simo provided very contrasting perspectives on this subject matter, with one leading towards a resurgence of Muslim tradition among youth, whereas the other shared that Western ideas, mostly because of social media and the Internet, have influenced a lot of Moroccan youth towards “westernization” regarding tradition and customs.
The table talk represented the start of comfort and immersion in Morocco, primarily because I shared very similar perspectives and personal experiences with individuals that grew up in lands so far and foreign from my own. Shortly after this experience, I came into contact with an individual that would forever leave an impression on me. In the midst of the most occupied space I’d seen in Morocco, the Rabat Medina, was where I was introduced to a confident, inspiring and ambitious young woman by the name of Khaoula. Khaoula expressed much interest in the fact that I’d been traveling to Morocco via Spain, given that she was working on aggressively and rapidly learning Spanish given her genuine interest in the language and culture. She was radiant and got on very well with everyone, regardless of nationality, gender and culture. Beyond Khaoula, I’d noticed that ambition was nothing ancient to the remainder of my Moroccan friends, including new ones that I’d befriend in future visits to the country throughout my year abroad, such as Achraf, a friend I’d become very fond of in terms of style and confidence, especially given his long and luscious hair.
For me, the beauty of Morocco extended beyond its physical beauty towards a notion of its surprise factor. A trip that I was initially so anxious for became the start of a relationship between myself and the country of Morocco that would grow stronger with the following visit I made seven months after the first journey. One memory that will never leave my mind, nor heart, was the entirety of Saturday, May 4, 2019. This day, all thanks to my amazing friends, Khaoula and Achraf, solidified the respect and love I have for Morocco and its people. From sailing across the Marina from Salé to Rabat to circling around the square in front of The Hassan Tower, I’d felt like I was with family when in the company of these two beautiful individuals.
Now that it’s been nearly three years since my last visit to Morocco at the time of this writing, it’s more clear than ever that the friendships I established overseas solidified themselves as family, even in times of despair and grief. Earlier this year, I received the unfortunate news that my dear friend, Khaoula, had passed away. Such grief for the loss of a close friend had been unknown to me beforehand; however, her presence in all the lives that she interacted with brought me and the friends we shared together in celebrating her life and the joy she shined upon us all. Therefore, this blog is dedicated to honoring the life of my dear Khaoula Ait Lakssir, a soul that will be forever missed and never forgotten among all the lives that she touched.