Written by Nika Hendrick

It’s no secret that everyone at Hawkins International is enamored with travel, so, when I told my coworkers that I was headed to Morocco for Thanksgiving, I was met with much excitement!

I knew a couple months ago, that I wanted to do something a little different for Thanksgiving this year, and after vetting numerous destination prospects, Morocco was the place. I wanted to explore a place that had everything – adventure, rich history, culture, and relaxation; Morocco exceeded my expectations.

Following 12 hours of traveling, I finally arrived in Marrakech’s Menara Airport. My first stop was Essaouira, a laid-back fishing town that lies 2.5 hours from Marrakech. Essaouira’s Medina is a listed UNESCO World Heritage site and is filled with eclectic streets and surrounded by ramparts called the Skala de la Kasbah. Walking through the Medina was like walking through time with scenes of everyday life happening within ancient historical dwellings.

No matter the time of day, music can always be heard. Essaouira has a surprisingly large music scene with some of the most talented performers playing a mix of traditional folk and reggae.

After three glorious days, I headed back to Marrakech. It was an assault on the senses to say the least, the complete opposite of easy-going Essaouira. The heart of Marrakech is the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square, a chaotic conflation of snake charmers, henna artists, street performers, street food vendors peppered with tourists and locals alike. The scene was hectic but fascinating.

I learned, from years of watching Anthony Bourdain, that the best way to see a city is through the eyes of a local. So, I arranged for Youssef to guide me through the labyrinth of souks and teach me about the local culture and history of the city and its people. The tour was captivating, I got to see the public oven spaces where the locals go to bake their bread, learn how a hammam (bath house) is heated (through an adjacent building that housed a manned furnace), and study social traditions, customs and the religion of Islam. There is nothing like seeing the backstreets and discovering a city’s soul to make you fall in love with it.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was the cooking class I participated in at Amal Women’s Training Center. Amal is a non-profit organization, situated just outside Marrakech’s medina walls, which helps disadvantaged women gain work experience by training them to enter the culinary and hospitality industry. Amal teaches these women how to become self-sustainable in order to support their families. The work they do is incredible. I learned how to make a tagine, a traditional Moroccan dish, and I still dream of its deliciousness to this day.

Upon planning my trip, I had a conversation with my guide for the High Atlas Mountains about the Berber villages that we would be passing through. He explained that these villages are full of children (the average household has about five to 10 kids), and they will occasionally stop to greet them and give them donations such as school supplies and warm clothing. I was so taken back by his generosity that I knew I wanted to help.

In the weeks ahead of my trip, I held a drive at Hawkins International to collect school supplies, warm hats, scarves and gloves to give to the children. Because of the wonderful and caring employees that make up the Hawkins team, I was able to participate in one of the most humbling experiences of my life. The smiles each child gave from receiving something as simple as a box of crayons was joyous.  To work for a company that shows as much passion for participating in philanthropic efforts, as what they do, is something I value considerably.

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By the end of my holiday, the genuine people I came across in Morocco, and the love they showed for their country left me with a full heart and lasting memories. The progressive country is an exemplary of a true Islamic nation – warm and welcoming.

I would go back to Morocco in a heartbeat.

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