First Week in Morocco: Part 1
All we know about the future is that it will be different. But perhaps what we fear is that it will be the same. So we must celebrate the changes. Because, as someone once said, everything will be all right in the end. And if it’s not all right, then trust me, it’s not yet the end.
—The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Never lose your childish enthusiasm and things will come your way…Unthinkably good things can happen even late in the game. It’s such a surprise.—Under the Tuscan Sun
I am in Marrakesh. I arrived Tuesday on Royal Air Maroc. As I waited for take off from JFK last Monday, tears flowed. For the first time since April, my To-Do List was done. I’d packed up my classroom of almost three decades. I’d cleaned out, made improvements, and boxed up the home my children and I lived in for 21 years. I’d weighed my luggage obsessively and completed the immunizations and paperwork required to live in Africa. I’d said goodbyes. Hard ones. The kind that make you wonder why you started this journey in the first place.
It seemed the pain of leaving loved ones was too great, our bonds too strong for me to take flight. As I texted my sister the final farewell, tears dripped into my lap. I resisted all that was already set in motion, but the plane, stronger, thundered into the sky.
“I know how you feel,” the beautiful lady sitting beside me said softly. “I cried all the way from Miami to New York. My son is in university there where I have been visiting him.”
“My son is in college, too; and my daughter is starting a new job today. I hate leaving them.”
She understood. Completely. She, too, teaches in an American school. She is from Rabat, and her husband, a university teacher, is from Marrakesh. The next morning she helped me get through Customs and we exchanged information as colleagues- now- friends.
In the seat in front of me was another kind stranger. While texting my sister my glasses had fallen from my lap and someone had stepped on them while boarding the plane. While he and his wife were busy juggling three small children he found them, bent with a screw missing, in the aisle. He tried to fix them for me though he had his hands full–literally.
When I landed Tuesday morning, my driver, Younes, took my luggage and led me to the van. With the enthusiasm and smile of Sonny in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel he welcomed me to Morocco: “You are not a tourist. This is your home. What do you think?”
I saw the bluest sky, palm trees swaying in a slight breeze. I said it didn’t feel as hot as everyone warned. He laughed, “That’s because we’re in Casablanca near the sea. Marrakesh will be different.”
We rode about an hour and I learned he worked for a tour company and had led excursions throughout Morocco. He spoke multiple languages and previously worked as an entertainer for Club Med. Among dances he performed and taught tourists was salsa. We stopped at a rest stop where he bought me a coffee. As we sat on the patio surrounded by Moroccan families on holiday, the school called to say a colleague’s flight had changed and we needed to go back for him and his family. Something told me they were my neighbors from the seats in front of me. I was right.
And to quote Bogey of the family I spent Week One with and our new city… “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Younes took us into the heart of the city–the medina–that first night. Jemaa el Fna–the largest square in Africa–is a hub of world food. I had chicken and couscous, a staple Moroccan dish.
(from left) Courez (14 months), Tesha, Steve, Coulter (4 years) Starr (2 years) was asleep in stroller. Coulter has the inquisitive mind and energy that my son, Cole, had at his age. Starr, like Taylor was, is a talker and little mom.
Wednesday, Day Two, I slept in until almost 11–a first since my early salsa days. I walked around the corner and had comfort food, Italian pasta, for a late lunch. The Woods joined me and we next braved the grocery.
Acima is just a couple of blocks away.
Starr was my helper.
Day 3, Thursday, we had lunch at Dreamland just around the corner. I had a tuna panini and chips (french fries served with most every dish). Meals in our neighborhood are typically $5. We watched locals rush to work
We hailed two petite taxis and set out for Marjane–the Marrakesh version of Walmart– to set up households. An inner mini meltdown began somewhere between the cookware and cleaning supplies aisle. I’d cried on the plane and a couple of times those last weeks before the flight wondering why I’d leave such a great life–family, friends, and a home I loved. I’d given away and packed away a lifetime of household goods. I’d embraced the book on minimalism my brother-in-law, Jeff, gave me, Everything That Remains
. So why was I now buying the very things I had taken out of my bags because of weight restrictions–the very things I already had?
More than that, I feared I wasn’t ready for a new home. I’d watched the first half of Under the Tuscan Sun
the night before and like Frances, was wondering what in the world I was doing. As we left Marjane, crossing the massive parking lot and streets to check out Kitea–Marrakesh’s Ikea–my doubts melted. Because I melted. Forget Frances. And forget the looking- like- Kristin- Scott- Thomas- in- The- English
-Patient-thing I’d envisioned,
all gorgeous in the Sahara, sheer veils flying behind her/me in the breeze. In that heated moment I longed for her cool cave but instead was Ralph Fiennes, trudging along beet-faced across the desert. We all fell into taxis and headed home.
Hours later I was in another movie, the
movie of Morocco. (By the way, I chose Morocco as top of my Bucket List for many reasons–a colleague which had taught here and loved it; a school with a vibrant academic, collaborative, close community; expenses paid to allow saving money; a history dating back to the first century; the souks; the camel excursions/campouts in the desert; the proximity to Spain where dear friends live and affordable travel to all of Europe via its Ryanair hub; the food and friendly people; the French influence; the creative culture that drew the Beat Poets and music legends of the 60s. And then there are all the legendary movies made here: Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Gladiator
, as well as parts of Captain Phillips, Inception, and Sex and the City II
(filmed in the souks and the Taj Palace). The Marrakesh Film Festival, which has honored such actors as Juliet Binoche and drawn icons of Hollywood, is second only to Cannes in these parts.)
We’d freshened up and ate where our colleagues recommended at the end of our street, Casanova’s. And while I love all-things-Italian, it seemed more like Rick’s Place. All was right with the world again.
Lamb chops and amazing sides
Ready for the walk home
Friday, Day Four, I grabbed a taxi and headed for the souks. I had breakfast at a French cafe before entering the square.
Ladies do henna here.
I was given a textile tour by a nice man. Though his carpets aren’t magic, he explained the the story behind them.
After Berber women marry and leave their homes, they make a carpet to send as a gift for their families. The weave speaks its own language, explaining whether the woman is happy or not with her marriage.
This one is identical on both sides.
Carrie Bradshaw loved the shoes in the souks. The film was made in the Marrakesh souks though the movie setting was Abu Dhabi.
Mud used for hammams in spas. These are like Turkish baths, once Roman baths, which Moroccans enjoy weekly. Beautiful skin is a priority here.
In this Berber pharmacy a student, wanting to practice his English skills, was quite the salesman.
He had natural remedies for mosquitos, cellulite, weight loss, and stuffy noses. He asked me to sit in front of the fan for the demonstration and wanted me to hold this turtle–no idea why. When I declined, he placed it in my lap.
Pigments for painting–would love to paint again while here.
I bought spices called Chanel and Atlas Mountains. They look like square cakes of soap and can be worn as perfume, used in drawers with clothes, or used in a room for fragrance.
Time to stop now because tomorrow I start school. New teachers will be picked up on the school bus (a coach tour companies use in the US) for inservice. More on my apartment, the weekend, and my first day of school later.