My good friend Remi and I ended the semester tucked away in the town of Chefchaouen surrounded by the Rif mountains, hiking and exploring and cooking. The name of the town derives from the Berber word for horns, Ichawen, referring to the shape of the mountain tops above the town that resemble the two horns of a goat. The four hour bus ride from Fes through the mountains was a welcome respite from last minute packing and studying. The manager of our apartment, Mohammed, met us at the bus station and led us through the charming old medina to our dar, where he showed us our home for the next few days. Mohammed took us for a short walk to acquaint us with the medina and left us at dusk in the main square, where we promptly spent $5 for a bag overflowing with fruits and veggies. We ventured into the medina for couscous and ate next to a young Moroccan woman named Shaya who spoke flawless, comprehensible classical Arabic! Her friend Kim was a solo traveler from South Korea studying Eastern medicine and serendipity brought these two women together; Kim was in the process of using an eastern approach to heal Shaya’s mother. After studying traditional healing myself in Morocco and becoming a bit disenchanted with the competency of traditional healers, Kim’s success reignited my faith and interest in Eastern practice.
The magic of Chefchaouen lies in its Spanish charm, the sincerity of the locals, the white-washed homes with sea-blue accents, and the melodious call to prayer which rings out of several mosques around the town in unison. Remi and I made our way past the Ras el Ma waterfall, where women did laundry, to the Bouzafar mosque overlooking the town and leading us to trails. So the hike begins. Low point: breaking my camera (resorted to disposables) L High point: meeting an enthusiastic guide in the mountains named Mustafa who led us to one of the peaks and helped us navigate back down—stopping to chew on plants, eat cacti, and point out his donkey named “Georgebush.”
We ventured out for couscous once again and chatted with some of the nicest Moroccan men I’ve yet to meet. The night ended on our terrace reflecting on this wild country we’ve come to call home. Sunday morning we scrambled eggs and veggies for breakfast and feasted on mandarins and toast, tea and coffee, watching the sleepy town of Chefchaeoun wake up around us. Exploring and shopping ensued as we wandered through this blue igloo-of-a-city, stopping to drink tea with and purchase a giant comfy wool sweater from an endearing shop owner. In our short time here, we made ourselves known in the neighborhood; the woman we repeatedly bought bread, cheese and eggs from just outside our doorstep was always delighted to see us and showed her appreciation by forcing mandarins on me. For dinner, Remi and I stirfried about 6 pounds of vegetables and cooked pasta as we sipped wine-spritzer creations in our marvelously Moroccan kitchen. I wish only that I could spend more time in Chefchaouen. We left reluctantly the next afternoon and I arrived in Fes just in time for one last meal with my host family! We exchanged tearful goodbyes, gifts, and gratitude until it was time for Mehdie to accompany me to the airport for my 5:30am flight. The following journeys from Fes to Casa, Casa to Paris and Paris to Boston are now a blur of packaged meals, crying babies and intercom announcements. Alas, I am writing this, embarrassingly sore from a Christmas yoga class, next to the woodstove at home in front of our brightly lit Christmas tree, nursing a mug of homemade rooibos chai tea. It’s good to be home.
Keeping this blog has been incredibly helpful in documenting my adventure the past four months, a chance to reflect on how I’m feeling every week or so, the everyday frustrations and the highlights.
A few things I’ll miss from Morocco: washing dishes after dinner as Myriem dances around the kitchen singing in Turkish and Amina makes me sugarless mint tea; entertaining my family by shouting “YELLA!” to summon them to dinner; paddling around on surfboards as our exuberant guide Simo gave us our first darija Arabic lesson; licking my ice cream bowl clean with Salma at our favorite glacier; helping Amina make bread and couscous every Saturday; awakening to the call to prayer echoing from the nearest mosque; getting thoroughly scrubbed down in the hammam; riding off into the golden sunset atop Berber camels and sleeping under a star-filled sky; being constantly impressed with the logic and divine meaning behind the Arabic language; yelling in French and Arabic at kickboxing class alongside about 20 little Moroccan boys; gently declining marriage proposals in taxis; paying 20 cents for street sweets; introducing Mama Hakima to my French host mom Nadine before attending a Berber wedding; eating cow and sheep liver, intestine and heart hours after witnessing their slaughter; admiring every Moroccan city’s skyline punctuated by minarets; wandering around the magical Djemaa al Fna square in Marrakesh; buying a giant grocery bag filled with local vegetables for $1; and consuming about 6 fresh mandarins daily. Of course, there are a few things I never did get used to: The cold. Being told to what extent I was ripped off in the market. The command “KUL” (EAT!)—though by December I was using it on my family! The dusty ol track I sweated at. The Moroccan “panini:” white bread filled with mayo and French fries. The staring men at cafes.
As a Westerner, living in a developing country came with struggles. But it didn’t take long to realize that quality of life has absolutely zero correlation with financial resources. Or with the presence of utensils and napkins at meals. I also realized quickly just how much communication is nonverbal. Home now for a week, little moments like waking up in a warm bed and walking downtown without catcalls or bewildered stares and choosing from 6 different flavors of seltzer has given me a greater appreciation for the materially rich life I was born into. My adaptability, negotiation skills, self-reliance, and sense of spiritual awareness have developed. However (and I feel this is important) so has my cynicism and feeling of helplessness. The piles of trash, the rate of illiteracy and infant mortality, the mental and physical illnesses plaguing society, the misconstrued conceptions of health (but is it really the place of a White American college girl to label them as misconstrued?), the pervasive emaciated beggars… Morocco has a long journey ahead to ameliorate these societal problems rooted deep in culture and history. Recognizing that I can’t save anyone, and knowing that the poverty will endure as I resume life in a middle-class bubble immured from it all, the one thing I can do is raise my awareness about it and fulfill my responsibility as a global citizen to see first-hand how the other 90% of the world lives.
In this journey I have been surprised, I have been baffled, I have been rewarded, and I have been humbled. I am forever indebted to the people and organizations (FEA!!!) that enabled me to experience and share with you all Morocco’s tolerance, overwhelming hospitality, and bright, hopeful people.