This story needs two parts. The Before and The After. I want to start with The Before, the part of our trip before the world turned upside down. This post belongs to my initial intention of this vacation: to explore and experience Morocco and its people.
We landed in Casablanca on the night of my birthday and at my first look at the country I was smitten. Although Casablanca is a large port city and we only spent one night there (we had additional nights planned in this city at the end of our trip, but those plans changed unfortunately), I could instantly tell that Morocco was going to be even more fulfilling than I had hoped for.
Before I go on, I want to explain why this trip specifically carried so much weight for me. I was raised by both my parents and my grandparents combined growing up, and feel a deep connection to my grandparents because of that time spent with them as a child. My father's mother is Arab (Palestinian, Syrian and Egyptian) and I spent most of my young and adult life living right down the street from her. Yes, in true cultural fashion, my wife and I bought our first home together a few blocks away from her.
This grandmother of mine, Jodette, was and continues to be one of the most influential humans in my life. I know Jodette as Sitti, which means grandmother in Arabic. My Sitti was one of the first bellydancers on the West Coast when she immigrated here at the age of nineteen. She continues to teach dance to this day and raised me around the Middle Eastern culture through music, movies, language, food and obviously dance. Being with her took me to another world, a beautiful escape, and her stories of Jordan, Lebanon and Bethlehem made me feel connected to a faraway land that I knew I would visit someday.
So there I was in a place that looked so much like the stories I'd been told, in a van full of 10 women including myself and my wife Jess. The group consisted of a stellar cast of individuals and I loved being a part of the camaraderie of an all women tour. Our two wonderful tour guides Mustafa and Hicham would arrive each morning and whisk us away to see the local sites and/or travel to new cities and then drop us at our hotels each evening. We saw so much. SO MUCH. It was both exhilarating and exhausting, euphoric and challenging. I loved sharing the experience with Jess, and the trip would not have been the same without both the people we toured with and people we encountered along the way.
Because we were able to see so much en route to our next destinations, each detail is truly too much to tell. Some places stand out though. The northwest city of Chefchaouen, also known as the blue city, is aptly named after the abundant blue tones of the buildings ranging from rich indigos to pale pastels. I think I could live in this place.
Picturesque alleyways echoing the sound of daily life led to open lively courtyards with busy markets and tiny storefronts, and as always, tea shops. Every day would include at least three glasses of fresh mint tea, sweetened, and I'm hooked again after losing my childhood attachment to it. There are worse things, right?
Fès, or Fez, is another standout. Known as the spiritual capital of Morocco, the city of Fès includes one of the oldest and largest car-free medinas in the world. Once the capital of Morocco, the old medina contains thousands of winding, tight alleyways only accessible by foot or animal in which people live and work. Rich in Jewish, French and Arab history, Fès was an absolute delight to experience and we were lucky to do so with our vigilant tour guides, herding us ten like cats, making sure we didn't get lost in the incredibly confusing maze of the old Medina.
An obvious highlight was the Sahara Desert in Merzouga. Palm trees scattered across plains of rocky land that led up to the smooth rising slopes of the sand dunes and it was everything I could have hoped for. The color of the sand shifted with the light in the sky. Locals led camels in the distance making idyllic cut-out shapes on the horizon. Feet in the sand and a local beer in my hand, I didn't even miss the ocean that would normally complete this scene for me. I was in a whole new world.
That night in the desert we were blessed with a cloudless sky so we truly slept under the stars. I couldn't nod off knowing the vast expanse of the exotic desert was right outside my tent, so after everyone was settled in I grabbed my book and sat outside by myself for quite a while in silence. In that silence I found the desert's song, the building of sound as the wind catches speed over the dunes and then the sudden absence of all noise like a vacuum, freezing time. Those were the moments for me. The moments that meant everything.
Like all international trips, at least for myself, there were many moments of self discovery along the way in Morocco. One was coming to a new level of understanding about how much more solo, introspective time I need than others. I found myself reaching for an intimate experience more often than most, plugging in my AirPods and creating my own relationship with the smells and sights around me. The balance of social and solo time has shifted so much for me in the last several years, it's been difficult to adjust at times to those ever changing needs. But that discovery reaffirms my path as a hairstylist, where I get to connect one-on-one with individuals and have my soul fed in the way that works best for me. I'm so grateful for that. This is why I travel, to open myself up and uncover new bits. Savor the moments of self discovery, yeah?
This is what I'm left with.
The older gentleman playing the oud in the evening softly for us while we ate. I wondered if he played it for his granddaughter like my Sitti did for me. I wondered if she will have tears in her eyes recalling those memories as an adult, like I did in that moment then.
Our Arab speaking guide Hicham who would smile at us in the rear view mirror while he drove, kindly tolerating us with our brazen language and loud volume. I will forever miss his gentle corrections as I stumbled over what Arabic I know, giving me new words and encouraging me to learn more. Mustafa, our other wonderful guide who found fast humor with our group, holding his hands in soft fists in the air and bobbing them to the rhythm of old American music.
The young man serving our tent camp in the desert with his best friend working with him at his side. Highly educated and fluent in four languages, he spoke to me about what school was like for him and the distant places he's planning on visiting when he's able to travel.
The many women I saw in the marketplaces and out on the streets, quiet and refusing to have their pictures taken. But when I looked at them and into their beautiful eyes they were surprised by me. And as soon as I said "Salaam" and bobbed my head slightly in the way that denotes respect and acknowledgment, I watched them receive me.
I will miss the call to prayer, the sizzling tangine, the vibrant colors, our tour guides, the kindness of the Moroccan people, the music, the dancing tones of the Arabic language and the palm trees.
This trip will stay with me. I left a piece of my heart in Morocco.