It’s such a strange thing to come back to a place you once lived. At this point in my life, with where I am today versus where I was back in 2009 when I arrived here the first time – there is such a vast chasm of experience and perspective. Not to mention the contrast of my recent experiences in Australia, Bali, Sri Lanka and Dubai – so in every sense of the word, coming back to Morocco is a trip. In one sense, it has been a nine year trip around the world. From Morocco to San Francisco flying west, then to Hawaii and then my recent trips as mentioned above – and here I am.
I wrote a book once, called Not My Morocco. I don’t think I was very fair to Morocco in some portions of it. Most of my angst at that time came from being a penniless foreigner in a land that is in almost every way distant from my own – and then adding in the struggle of trying to navigate the foreign national and religious bureaucracies required to force through what, in hindsight, was a marriage that may well have been doomed from the beginning. That relationship was made of stress never ending. There’s no blame being thrown there and that marriage yielded the most wonderful blessing of my life, the ability to be the father to my daughter. There is nothing I would change – because she is the result. I am grateful.
The point however, is that all of that struggle – that trauma – that forcing a square peg into a round hole, it led to some angst that I unfairly attributed to Morocco, when in fact, it was more interpersonal than cultural or national. So, allow me, for what it is worth – to offer an apology to this beautiful country filled with wonderful people. Yes, of course there are problems here, like there are problems everywhere people exist – but in my experience Morocco and the Moroccan people have always been generous, welcoming, honest, and in a word – wonderful.
With all that being said – I’ll move on.
First impression getting off the plane in Casablanca was that Mohammad V International Airport was smaller than I remembered. Customs was a breeze of showing my Covid documentation and then a short conversation with an immigration officer that ended with a smile and “Merhaban” Welcome – as he handed my passport back to me.
Walking through the airport, no one touted me. I will admit, I saw hordes of taxi drivers waiting outside – but I wouldn’t be dealing with them. I walked to the train, bought a first class ticket to Fez for $26 and then waited for the train. On the train, looking out the window, I was astounded by the blocks and blocks of apartment buildings that have gone up where shanty-towns used to be. I saw many more cars than I remembered – something that in light of the crisis in Sri Lanka should probably be a point of concern. Building more dependence on fossil fuels is never a good idea.
At the Casa Voyageurs station, I transferred onto the Fez bound train. At first, our car was the most boring. A big German couple, a man who had in headphones and never stopped looking at his tablet, a Moroccan woman sleeping, and a French woman in sunglasses talking with her granddaughter via Zoom. The Germans and the Moroccan woman got off in Rabat and the tablet man moved to the window seat – these are assigned seats and I don’t know if he took someone else’s seat or the Germans had been in his. Next, a Moroccan man came in and sat by the window, then a beautiful Moroccan woman in a red jacket came in – the Moroccan man was in her seat, she graciously sat somewhere else and thus began the bizarre game of musical chairs. Another man came in and sat next to me because the Moroccan woman was in his seat. The French woman and I were both in our assigned seats, but we would eventually switch. All of this because the tablet man (I think) took a seat that wasn’t his.
The Moroccan man by the window lives in Montreal and had a lively conversation with the French woman who eventually ended up in my seat sitting next to him – it was me that made the change because the woman in the red jacket and I had fallen into a wonderful conversation about books, politics, life, poetry, blockchain, and our noisy brains. The hours flew by quickly as the tablet man continued to stare at his tablet and the other man looked at his phone. Two out of three of our car had met Noam Chomsky, I used to work with his research assistant but never met him but have seen him speak live a few times. We found some mutual friends as well. Suffice to say, friendships were born. In my opinion, it was the best 6-seat first class cabin ever.
At the Gare de Fez, we all parted. I had a room booked at the Ibis, right next door. I remembered it being a nice hotel, but the room was low 2-star at best. The pool area and garden, however, was as stunning as I remembered. I took a long walk in the Ville Nouvelle, reacquainted myself with the layout of Fez and visited my old school, the American Language Center. Back at the Ibis, I drank a beer in the dismal bar and then fell hard asleep. In the morning I got a coffee, took a long walk, grabbed a taxi out to Marjane (the Moroccan version of Walmart owned by the Moroccan royal family) and bought some small gifts for my wife’s family before I went up to visit. I also bought a suitcase and some additional clothes – halfway around the world with a small pack was fine but there are a few things I want to bring back to Hawaii with me from Morocco.
The taxi man at the Sefrou-Fez taxi stand remembered me, nine years later – I used to be a regular. He didn’t look like he’d aged a bit. We embraced like long lost brothers. The waiter at the Sakaya Cafe in Sefrou also remembered me and we warmly greeted each other. It was nice to arrive at my in-laws house. I’d missed my daughter, Sophia, quite a lot on this trip- moving forward from here, she will be joining me as we journey the other half of the globe. My wife will be staying a bit longer to spend time with her family. It was really nice to see my mother and father-in-law, my wife’s sisters, her nephew who had grown from a boy to a man, and to be back in the house I’d spent so much time in before. That being said, I’m incredibly glad that I decided to book a hotel room so that I have space of my own. There are a lot of people staying in that little house.
Sophia came with me to check into my hotel. She got a little stressed out when we couldn’t find it at first – I think it will be good for her to travel with me a bit, to learn to embrace a bit of uncertainty. From the hotel – which is really an old Jewish Dar house converted into a guesthouse – we walked back to the family house stopping in the souk to get watermelon, oranges, and a couple of chickens to contribute to the family larder. I can tell you 100% that Moroccan oranges taste better than American ones.
We enjoyed Friday couscous with the family, Sophia and I took a short walk in the woods (we came across a pack of feral dogs and I decided to turn back) and then I came back to my room. I needed yet another adaptor and stopped in a small electronics shop where I was able to get one for 10 dirham – about a dollar. Sophia had been concerned we would be overcharged for things if we spoke English (from her mom) and I tried to explain that we might be overcharged a little bit, but in general Moroccans are honest and that doesn’t generally happen with food, restaurants, taxis, or other things that have a normal price. Also, it was a great moment to explain to her about privilege and how much of it we have just because we were lucky enough to be born Americans at the time we were. Privilege is such an easy thing to not see – and I hope that she had her eyes opened a little bit by our conversation. I tried to explain to her that even if we do get a little overcharged here and there, we are still coming out with more than we deserve. It’s tough to explain it, for sure.
It’s great to be back in Morocco. There is so much to love in this country. There is so much to love about this country. I love Morocco.