University of Texas Student Athletes “Calling themselves higher to see what more could be done” in Morocco

May 2019

I cannot imagine a more authentic experience of Morocco than our Courts for Kids trip. The people of Talsint are the most hospitable people I have ever encountered, and that’s saying something as a product of the South. We arrived in Morocco on May 22nd after almost 24 hours of travel. We then rode to Fez for a day of exploring and some rest, and then took a long bus ride to Talsint, the community with whom we were building the court. Our trip was scheduled during Ramadan, the month in which the Quran was revealed to Muhammad. In order to celebrate, the people of Morocco, who are mostly Muslim, fast from sunrise to sundown from things such as food, water, and cursing. This meant that, in order to work with the community and connect with the people of Talsint, we had to work after breaking fast each evening until dinner at 3 am. We were honestly very thankful for this because it was hot during the day; our schedule allowed us to work in the cooler weather. Upon arrival in Talsint, were greeted with a large Ramadan meal and a tour around the museum before getting to work. The system involved gathering buckets of rocks, sand, and cement to pour into the mixer then unloading the concrete into wheelbarrows to dump onto the court. It is still up for debate which task was the hardest. The first two days we worked only at night and were a little behind, so we began working for a couple of hours during the day to finish on time.

Racing to the top of the mountain, we were out of breath both from physical exertion and the raw beauty we were witnessing. We stood looking at the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen cresting the Atlas Mountains. Only a single peak stood taller than the one we were standing on, but it was getting dark fast and dinner was prepared. It seemed like we had experienced the fullness of the beauty, but then Will said, “Do you think we could go just a bit higher?” So, we went in all the way. This was the essence of our trip – calling ourselves higher to see what more could be done.

After working in the heat for the first time, the team had gotten a bit scraggly. We were low on electrolytes and down two team members, but dinner was exactly what we needed. We loaded up our van and headed out to the countryside where our driver, Ishmael, lives. He lived in a small town but was thrilled to show us around every piece, from the hydraulic wheat wheel to the narrow walking paths that surround the crops. Mustafa, one of the Talsintians, picked beautiful pink roses that smelled like honey and water. They were so potent that almost a week after picking they still had a scent. All of this created a surreal and rejuvenating experience.

Every day we drew challenges at breakfast. On the second to last day of court building I drew one that said, “Teach a local an American song.” While building the court that night I ran into Ayoub, one of the locals I had met the night before. He had only been speaking English for a year but was incredibly fluent because of his love for learning and American media. He had taught me several tongue twisters that I could barely stammer out, yet he said with ease. He wanted to learn more, so I taught him our beloved fight song, “The Eyes of Texas.” The next day, while we were pouring the very last scoop of concrete that Tristan had rationed out, “The Eyes of Texas” began playing. With our horns up and smiles across our faces, it felt like we were glowing. We all thought that someone on our team had played the song, but it was Ayoub. That was more special than the court itself. We knew that the court was going to be played on by little kids and that a lot of fun was going to be had there, but the people of Talsint could pour concrete just as well as we could. The special part was the mark that we left on one another. Ayoub had gone home and researched the few verses of the song I had taught him, then learned the significance and knew how proud we were of the song. That is what communicated to me that our trip was successful. We had seeped into one another’s hearts and learned to appreciate one another’s culture.

Throughout this experience, we had no cell service. Although seemingly scary, there was something special about not having our phones. We weren’t in charge of anybody, and we weren’t having to budget our time into a million different things calling our names (unless you count the little boys). As student-athletes, we spend a lot of our lives juggling all the avenues of our life that we lead, but this trip gave us an opportunity to just be authentic and love others without worrying if there was something more important we could be doing. The singular task of serving allowed us to go all-out just for the people that we got to be with. Shaving off all the extra expectations, we were also able to remove the false parts about ourselves. It was one of the coolest experiences any of us had ever had.

After finishing the court, we were surprised with an opportunity to ride camels in the Saharan Desert. We raced around in the sand and had a unique opportunity to just be silly, lift one another, and enjoy the peacefulness of the desert. The men who worked at the camp played the drums for us, and we even got to try and play. It was a nice refresher and helped us realize just how close we all had gotten over the past week.

For our final day, we drove the four long hours back to Talsint and then went to a lunch filled with rounds and rounds of Never Have I Ever. This day was the day that the whole trip had been building up to – we were finally getting to play on the courts. When we arrived, we realized that the basketball hoops were upside down, but by this point in the trip we had certainly learned to go with the flow. After playing a couple of pick-up games of volleyball, basketball, and soccer, Derek organized a basketball tournament so that everyone could play together. In Morocco soccer is considered a male sport so basketball allowed individuals of all ages and genders to come together for one event. After the game, we had a closing ceremony and then went to dinner. This was the coolest dinner we had the entire trip because it felt like all the walls were broken down. We were able to talk deeply about religion and politics, which lead a much deeper understanding of Morocco, but also a lot more questions. Morocco is incredibly unique in its heart, and how it sees the future. If Talsint could write the future, every tribe, be them atheist, Christian, or Muslim, would be able to live together in the hopes for a united world. And, they want the world to know what they believe.

The next morning, we started our forty-hour journey back to Austin, Texas with a very different interpretation of what was outside our window than on the way there. I will forever be thankful to my teammates. Morocco, and Courts for Kids for this incredible journey I had the privilege of being a part of. Hook ‘em Horns -Mackenzie, student

“We are more alike as humans than we are different.  Basic human emotions are universal.  Despite our different races, religions, and nationalities, we have more in common than we think.” – Tecora

“I feel the trip has changed me in my viewpoints about cultures.  You watch the media and they try to formulate opinions upon people.  This experience has changed my opinion about Muslims.” – Brett

“Some of my favorite memories of this trip include learning how to do labor work because I have never done that at home.  I felt like I doubted how strong I was, but I was excited to life rocks and sand…  I learned that pretty much everyone loves a smile, no matter what language you speak.” – Liv

“I feel like this trip changed me in the sense that it opened me up.  I was able to appreciate my life more as well as have more respect for the lives of others.  I was able to achieve this by living with the people in this community and having real interactions with them.  This experience also allowed me to become a more caring and loving person.” – Tristan

“My favorite memory was watching all of the kids help build the court and then the smiles on their faces when they got to play on it.  I also enjoyed watching and interacting with everyone from the community and learning about their cultures and their lives.”  – Jen

“I learned about myself that I am a feminist.  I never considered myself one prior to this trip, but I feel very empowered to encourage young girls to choose their best life; however they define it.” – LaToya

“This trip changed me in that it allowed me to grow.  I was often scared and nervous about things of this culture that I was not used to.  For example, I was apprehensive to try the food, the religion, and the cleanliness of the city.  However, as time went on, I began to become more open minded and less judgmental.” – Peyton