when most little girls were young, they wanted ponies. when i was young, i wanted to go to morocco.
ok, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. maybe i was a tiny bit older than “little”. but so what? sue 12 year old me for thinking “morocco” when the other girls cried “paris!!”. morocco has been my biggest dream for longer than I can remember, and holy moly i’m actually here….
my first experience with morocco was a little less glamorous than the made-up video reels i had playing in my head. so, my plane landed (yes, that was it, it just landed- no sentence error there, my friends). I groggily climbed down the stairs and awkwardly maneuvered through the stretch of asphalt to the tiny little building they were referring to as the “airport”.
The poor mom in front of me was traveling alone with four kids, so i offered to help out with some of her carry-on luggage. i’m about as certain as can be that she didn’t speak a lick of english, but i’ve never seen someone jump on an offer as quickly as she did. I was more than happy to help, although i did miss the hysterical sight of the three year old wheeling a rolling bag twice the size of his own body.
the airport, despite its size, ended up being a great experience. I kept catching an american guy a few people ahead of me in line looking at me. he had an instrument strapped onto his backpack and i got the feeling that he had quite the spirit for adventure. how strange it is that all the staring in india has made me virtually immune.
fast forward through immigration and security, and i’m sitting outside alone waiting for my ride, but i didn’t mind one bit. in fact, the 75 degree weather was so nice, i wanted my ride to be delayed as much as possible. every part of me wanted to throw my stuff on the ground and dance and to curse indian weather. as i spun my body and outstretched my arms around the airport, I was interrupted-
“Hey! Are you here with IVHQ?”
And so my fanciful thoughts about the weather were disrupted, but with good cause. who else would it have been other than the guy from the line?
We talked as we waited for our ride. I was expecting to be the only volunteer waiting since i had arrived a day early, so having company was a nice surprise. come to find out, his name was jase and he was from colorado. he had quit his job back at home as a financial analyst to travel the world, and had made six months worth of progress so far.
our program director, samad, eventually arrived to pick us up, his voice full of exasperation when he asked how long we had been waiting. we had waited twenty minutes or so, but truth be told, i could’t have been bothered by the delay.
the car ride was pleasant, jase practiced his arabic vocabulary while i sounded like a broken record going on about the weather- "is the temperature always like this? Ah, it just feels so great". the city flew past us as we whizzed down the road, and i found myself wishing we could slow down so i could take the city in.
when the taxi came to a stop outside a massive fortress looking thing, samad pulled my suitcase from the trunk and set it on the sidewalk. i was so excited to finally be in morocco that i started wheeling my bag into the closest doorway in sight. “no! no! not that one!” samad yelled through his laughter, just as i looked up to see a horrified morrocan woman gaping at my unwelcome appearance.
i spent no time getting me and my belongings out of her doorway. samad pointed across the road to the fortress looking building i had noticed earlier- “that’s your home,” he said, “you’re in the medina."
my placement arrangement turned out to be a kingdom rather than a home. A very massive four wall structure (the medina) enclosed the houses, markets, and mosques inside- it was like a tiny town. the medina- the arabic word for market- was buzzing at 3 pm. samad had kindly taken my luggage from me, giving me full freedom to take in the unfamiliar sights around me. my suitcase bobbled along the cobblestone street and my eyes feasted upon the doors of every color that adorned the ancient medina walls.
from side street to side street, we trailed behind samad until finally we arrived at a door nestled at the end of the road. before i even knew what was going on, a large woman sprang out from behind the door and went in for the cheek kiss. mind you, i was still a bit shaken up from the lady whose house i accidentally intruded earlier, so this woman barreling towards my face for a spontaneous cheek kiss absolutely terrified me. by the time i realized what was going on, it was too late to recover; I’m certain the whole sight from my end resembled that of a frightened fish. on the bright side, my cheek kiss technique is only going up from here.
thankfully, my poor ‘hello’ technique didn’t set me back too far. My mom showed me to my room and gave me the ultra fast tour around the 5 room house. Jase and Samad dipped out to take jase to his homestay just as the sister popped her head out from her bedroom door.
“I’m going to get my hair done, you come with me?” she smiled, her nearly perfect english catching me off guard. I didn’t hesitate saying yes- new friends mean new adventures, and i was certainly up to explore rabat with a new friend on a beautiful saturday afternoon.
we walked through the medina, our conversation liked we’d been friends forever. i discovered her name was sarah, like my sis at home, which gave me one of those unshakable good feelings. the medina was a sea of chaos, bustling with people and merchants. shops covered by crisp white linens lined the busy streets for as long as my eye could reach. we veered onto a side street and up a set of stairs to a cluster of shops overlooking a beautiful (quiet) courtyard.
Sarah and i plopped down next to each other as the barber made his way over to us. just when i thought i felt ready to give the cheek kisses another go, the sweet old man went in for the handshake (which i absolutely nailed, if anyone is curious). As Sarah got comfy in the barber’s chair, i got a glimpse of the sad excuse for a bun that was perched atop my head from the mirror in front of me. I decided that my au-natural tangled mess of hair was not the best way to keep friends i had just made, so i decided to postpone making a hair appointment for myself.
from the hair salon, sarah took me just down the road to the downtown part of rabat, her arm laced through mine. We met up with her boyfriend (i thought we had just picked up a random for the longest time before it dawned on me) and made a few errands to the store and to the train station before returning home. we even had a few unexpected events, one being the handful of seeds we were given to feed the literal colony of pigeons in the town square, the other being the random interview i got asked to do about language. "I don't speak arabic!!" I laughed, waving my hands no. But alas, they got me to answer a question in english- though i'm still at a loss for what i answered.
When we returned to the house, i got to meet dino, the volunteer who’d been here for a few weeks already. at first sight, dino is the most intimidating human being i’ve encountered on this trip, despite being all of 100 pounds. he’s got scars on his eyebrows, a tattoo for each bone of his body, and long black hair that fades to a bleached blonde, which frames his angular face ever so frightfully. to my surprise, his exterior didn’t match his kindhearted, gentle personality.
The remainder of my afternoon was spent sleeping, as my jet lag hit me hard. 5 hours later, i felt a hand gently waking me up. “time for dinner!” she smiled, drifting out the door in my room to the patio.
I realized my body was quite hungry-it must have been 10:30- and I was outside to join the rest of the family in no time. dinner was delicious and utensils were optional. i instinctively grabbed a spoon (the only option) and dug into the platter at the center of the table. In between bites, i curiously observed the very articulate way the family was tearing off bits of bread and using it to scoop up their food- sans utensils. It was the coolest thing.
Sleep that night came easily. sunday was also a free day, as the other volunteers were set to arrive that day. i couldn't wait for sunday, although a good night’s sleep couldn’t have come sooner.