Monday, May 26, 2014

Our Trip to Morocco

We decided to go to Morocco, our first time to Africa, because it’s the most exotic place we could find within a seven hour flight from New York. We had originally wanted to go to the islands of Mauritius and Reunion in the Indian Ocean but realized we could not handle the 14 hour plane flight. But that was fine because we fell in love with Morocco, with its people and with the country. Both are incredibly beautiful. And we can say that after being assaulted and robbed in Fez. Even that disaster turned out well because we ended up leaving the next morning and so had an extra day in Casablanca which we spent seeing the Hassan II mosque, the third largest in the world, and the beach, which was fabulous. Plus we finally had the seafood dinner for which we’d been looking for days.

Plus the robbery showed us what a land of contrasts Morocco actually is. We spent 10 days in Morocco. We left our beloved dogs at the winter house, cared for by a friend. We knew that would be the least stressful alternative for them. At least they were in a place they knew and their only job, which they do well, was to wait for our return. And if there were times when I started to wonder if we would ever return to America, the fact is that we did.

I used the Lonely Planet guide to Morocco to plan the trip and it was the perfect guide book because it told so much about what to expect. For example it warned not to mail post cards from Mohammed V airport outside Casablanca because they never get delivered; the stamps are steamed off and sold on the black market. So we found other places to mail them; hopefully they will reach their intended recipients.

But even Lonely Planet was not always accurate. For example it didn’t warn us that Fez is a very risky, dangerous city. I’m glad we saw it because we saw some of the most beautiful examples of Islamic architecture in the world, but it’s also a city of extreme poverty, extreme overpopulation and, therefore, extreme desperation of a kind we did not see any place else. The differences between Meknes and Fez, less than 50 kilometers apart, could not be more striking. Meknes is a city of artisans where many people are engaged in an amazing variety of crafts. You walk through medieval alleys and find tailors sitting cross-legged sewing away; or people making ribbon; bakers using ancient beehive ovens built into the ground floor of their houses; metalworkers making Damascene pieces, tapping thin strands of silver into incised lines on iron; wood workers making doors and windows by hand or making beautiful inlaid boxes. Plus Meknes has cats, lots and lots of cats, most of whom love to be touched. The cats immediately made me feel right at home. Fez has no cats and I knew something was wrong when I realized that. Then I saw boxes of kittens being sold to be raised for meat and I finally realized what an evil city it was, even before we were robbed. I’m amazed we made it out alive. Plus the merchants will not leave you alone. As a tourist they see you as a walking ATM machine and they will literally try and pull you into their shops. This is how we were robbed because we stopped to look at some tribal robes and bought one, showing where we kept our money, and one of the men in the shop followed us, waiting for the right moment to attack us and take our money. Fortunately our passports and credit cards were kept hidden. Again, we didn’t have that happen any other place. The other cities we visited all had merchants selling their wares, traditional and modern, but none had the air of desperation that those in Fez had. And the population is only increasing so I don’t see anything good coming out of that situation.

The first place we visited was Rabat, the capital, though there isn’t a capital building as such. Morocco is ruled by a king, a greatly beloved king evidently. His picture is everywhere, much as Queen Victoria’s must have been in her time. The usual picture shows him in a suit, tie and solid gold Rolex (I’m assuming it’s solid gold; he’s evidently wealthy enough to afford many of them) looking very uneasy with a rather tight smile. He was born in 1963 and became king in the late 1990s. His wife is an engineer. They have two children, a boy and a girl. One often sees photographs of the royal family, also the king in his Berber robes (his mother is a Berber from the High Atlas mountains) and the king with his hunting rifle kneeling over some dead animal he’s shot.

Despite talking with dozens of people on our trip, no one mentioned the king until our very last day when our hosts talked briefly about him. However Moroccans are very proud of their country. One man said the country is stable (a very important asset in the Near and Middle East right now), prosperous, with plenty of food for its people. Unfortunately the unemployment is high, especially among the young, and all of the young people we met want to come to America. One young woman, a college student, said that as a single woman she comes under a lot of pressure to get married and to wear a head covering and she wants to get away from those pressures by being in America.

Casablanca, as the most cosmopolitan city in Morocco and its financial center, had by far the fewest number of women wearing any kind of hair covering, probably one in two had nothing on their heads. But then we saw young women in their teens even wearing veils. I rode back on the plane to New York next to a mother and her daughter from Guinea. The mother wore a veil with only an eye slit. She lifted it up with one hand to eat or, when she used both hands to eat, she unhooked one side and briefly hooked it on the other before quickly pulling it back across her face. Her daughter had a head covering but no veil. I was wondering how they were going to make it in New York but at the baggage claim I saw there was a woman in blue jeans with them.

A woman in her 50s said things were more liberal when she was growing up but in recent decades there has been a rise in religious conservatism and pressure to go back to more traditional ways of dressing.

Hearing the meuzzin giving the call to prayer five times a day from the minarets around us was something to get used to. There were usually several mosques around us so you heard the call in stereophonic sound. Yet after a few days we were so used to them that we didn’t even notice them and when we returned here I found I missed their plaintive cries.

We were outside one of the main mosques downtown in Rabat when government and military personnel poured out of their office buildings, bringing their prayer rugs to the mosque across the street from us. It was amazing to watch these men from many walks of life in what must be one of the most democratic moments in the Moslem world, when side by side they bow towards Mecca. We were standing with some women and I saw one young mother with a baby asking for alms. I gave her a coin and instantly the other women approached me with their hands out all asking for money. I felt overwhelmed and fled the scene.

One must decide how to deal with beggars in Morocco. We didn’t find many of them; the most noted ones are the blind men who shout of verses from the Koran. There were also those with various kinds of birth defects and disfigurements. I was struck by how many people gave alms to the beggars. It certainly puts America to shame. Upon our return we were taking the subway to the bus station in New York when a homeless man came through asking for money and only one young woman gave him something; even I looked away.

I decided to give money to the elderly and to women with babies. It helps to have a pocketful of change and change was not always easy to come by. Money changers had large bills to exchange for dollars; never small bills or coins. The dirham is the Moroccan equivalent of the dollar and eight dirhams equals a dollar. The common coins are five and 10 dirhams though there are also single dirhams and even smaller coins because the dirham is made of 100 centimes and we did see some 20 centime coins. Five and 10 dirham coins are good to have for tips and alms.

The Lonely Planet book had said no one does anything in Morocco without expecting a tip and that was generally the case. We were helped at times when we didn’t even want to be helped. In Fez we left the huge, new beautiful train station to find a cab to our hotel. I just put my luggage down for a second when a man picked both pieces up and put them in a cab for me then held out his hand. I gave him 5 dirhams then got in and shut the door. He wanted more and held out his hand. Fortunately the window was up so I could ignore him. The guide book had said it was common for such touts as they are called to give you the “You can’t be serious” look at such times and the appropriate rejoinder is to give them back the “That’s more than you’re worth” look. This is why the right guide book is so handy.

We realized early on that everyone in every place we were staying expected to get something, at least as we were leaving, so it helped to have a wad of low denomination bills at such times. But it worked out well because it seemed that the kitchen help for example rarely got anything and in the places we stayed there were only two or three people on staff anyway. We only stayed in a real hotel in Rabat. In Fez and Meknes we stayed in riads, once grand homes belonging to bureaucrats or wealthy merchants and now converted into guest houses. They are generally about 200 years old and built on the classical Arab style of a central, open-air courtyard with rooms on several levels. In Meknes we were lucky enough to actually have a room on the roof-top terrace overlooking the old city and the nouvelle citie of the French occupation.

In Morocco, unlike Tunisia and Algeria, enlightened leadership by the French secretary-general in charge of the country prohibited the wholesale destruction of the old, walled cities and, instead, the French built brand new cities for French residents nearby. This prevented a lot of bad feelings against the French that they evidently earned in other North African countries.

Throughout the trip I read Edith Wharton’s In Morocco, which she wrote in 1918 just after the end of the First World War. She was evidently not only the first American woman but actually the first American to see many parts of Morocco that, until quite recently, had been forbidden to infidels (especially female infidels) to see. She never says why she went to Morocco but obviously she had a fascination with Arab culture. Also she was so well known as a prominent American author that she was accorded access at the very highest levels of Moroccan society by her friendship with French Gen. Lyautey, who was, in effect, the French ruler of Morocco.

According to Wharton, it was the Sultan of Fez who, trying to preserve his throne in the fact of wide-spread opposition, asked the French to, basically, take over the country while maintaining him as the ostensible native ruler. However, in typical Moroccan fashion, a powerful new warlord appeared and the Sultan decided to go with him instead of the French, but it was too late, the document was signed and the Sultan has evidently gone down in infamy for letting the French into the country.

However, in retrospect it was as important for Morocco’s future to have the French administer the country as it was for India to have the English, and for similar reasons. The French language provided a lingua franca by itself that proceeded to unite the country and still does, though Moroccan Arabic continues to be the primary language and Berber a major secondary language. Still, it seemed that most people, at least those involved with the tourist trade in some way, know French and fortunately even our weak knowledge of French made it possible to tour the country. I knew enough to ask questions but found it difficult to understand conversations between Moroccans or to understand those conversing with us who assumed we knew more French than we actually did.

Also the French provided technical training for government bureaucrats (French is still the main language for business, culture, education and government); they started building asphalt roads during World War I and also started the country’s magnificent railroad system. They also literally turned the desert green. Wharton mentions the desert started at Rabat, which is right on the coast. These days we traveled 100 kilometers inland and never saw the desert. It was spring; the land was green or colored with wild flowers; we passed through planted forests and literally hundreds of olive groves. And it was all started by the French who used Morocco as a food basket to supply its armies and citizens during World War I. Of course the Moroccans themselves continued and expanded the project after independence in 1956 when the French farmers had to leave. Evidently most of the French left then because antique stores in Meknes, Rabat and Casablanca are filled with stunning examples of fine French antiques. I even saw the stall of a yogurt seller in Meknes who had several beautiful examples of French mantel clocks on display next to his yogurt bowls.

Wharton saw Morocco in transition and we followed, by chance, most of her own tour except for Marrakesh which we did not have time to see. She saw harems, eunuchs, slaves from central Africa, sultans, viziers and all the trappings and traditions of an ancient monarchy. She also saw collections of clocks in ancient palaces (most of which she says did not work or were never kept wound), harem wives wearing fine French dresses, a sultan who used a telephone and a civilization that ranged from the barbaric to the exquisite, often at the same time.

Just six years before her arrival, the natives of Fez rose up and killed all the Europeans in the city. While the French army was superior to the basically amateur native Moroccan armies, General Lyautey told Wharton that the way to win the country was by recognizing and encouraging the best it had to offer: “A craft shop is worth more than a battalion,” he told her. And yes, it is true that French is the language of the Colonial oppressor but it’s also true that the French left Morocco without the revolution that rocked Algeria for years.

The current king, who is both leader of the country and of the military, was trained both as a lawyer and as an Army officer. After a spate of suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003 by unemployed youths who lived in shantytowns that ringed the city, the king ordered the slums demolished and replaced with modern apartment buildings. Of course he owned the construction companies that built the apartment buildings.

When Moroccans were faced with an unexpected situation, or with something that was not working properly or on time, they just looked at us, shrug and say, “It’s Africa,” which seemed to explain just about everything.

As a person whose introduction to Arabic culture came primarily from “A Thousand and One Nights,” and who read many short stories about Moroccan daily life, beliefs, traditions and attitudes before the trip, I was acquainted with the native belief in djinns, genies, as part of pre-Moslem belief that remains within the culture but not prominently and not publicly. When we were at the beach at Ain Diab outside Casablanca on our last day, I spoke with a young university student who asked if I knew any Arabic and I showed her the index cards written with Arabic phrases on one side and their English translations on the other. She went through the cards, sometimes changing the spelling of various words which I thought was interesting because it indicated to me that Moroccan Arabic is primarily an oral language without standardized spelling since I picked the words out of a Moroccan language book. Then she came to the word “djinn” and was stumped by it. She said it several times aloud then she realized what it meant and looked in shock at me: “Ghosts?” she asked. “Why are you interested in ghosts?” And the tip of the iceberg that is pre-Muslim belief opened for me just for a moment.

It was amazing to see just how sophisticated and slick tour guides could be at getting us on tours whether we wanted them or not. This first happened to us at Chellah, an area of Roman and early Moslem ruins just outside the city walls of Rabat. We were having trouble understanding how much the entrance fee was (turns out the entrance fee to every site in the country seems to be 10 dirhams). A very helpful young man with a shoulder bag explained the price and then proceeded to show us around, explaining trees and plants (the first papyrus we’d ever seen growing), birds, the Roman ruins, the Moslem ruins, and we quite quickly realized we were taking the tour without asking how much he wanted. Turns out the tour was quite interesting; his English was good and he showed us things we never would have known on our own. And fortunately he did not take us at the end when he certainly could have done so. He charged a very fair price (according to our guide book) and then let us tour on our own.

It was only as we were leaving that he became annoying as he opened up his shoulder bag (the standard armament of tour guides) because that was where he had his souvenirs for sale. In his case, he was selling fake amber and silver jewelry. He insisted the obviously plastic stones were real by lighting his cigarette lighter and putting the flame near the “stones” but we weren’t interested. Then he became quite demanding, saying he was a student and needed money for classes, a classic ploy we later learned. Then he said he had a little baby at home and needed money for his child. By this time we were out in the parking lot frantically looking for a cab to take us back downtown. He followed us across the lot, now practically yelling at us about his “bebe” and it wasn’t until we started walking back to town that he finally left us.

We had another interesting guide at Volubilis, the UNESCO World Heritage site 25 kilometers outside Meknes. We had already paid for a guide at the adjacent town of Moulay Idriss and he was well worth it. He also showed us things we never would have found on our own, including a baker plying his trade and a breath-taking view from the top of the town. He had traditional cloth caps in his shoulder bag and we ended up buying several for each of us. He was so happy he actually gave us some free postcards and he was also very fair in his charge. Once again we had neglected to ask in advance how much the tour would be.

At Volubilis we had decided not to use a guide because we had a map of the ruins and they seemed to be self-explanatory anyway. We had seen a young man near the Arc de Triomphe of the emperor Caracalla giving tours to various groups. Christian sat near the arch doing sketches and I thought we would be left gratefully alone, which we were for about an hour. But then the young man came over, ostensibly to watch Christian sketching but quite soon he asked if we wanted to see the mosaics, which are fabulous but roped off to prevent tourists from walking on them. Well, he did not hesitate to let us past the ropes and, yes, we were careful not to step on the 2,000 year old mosaics. Still, it was wonderful to see them up close and he also took us to places we would not have seen on our own. Once again we had not asked for a price and when the tour was done I gave him a 50 dirham bill. It wasn’t enough to satisfy him, however; he said he wanted 100 dirhams. So Christian pulled out a 100 dirham bill but I held out my hand to get back the 50. However it had already gone down deep inside his pocket and I knew we would never see it again. Then he took the 100 dirham bill and put it deep down the same pocket, telling us to think of it as a souvenir. I did think of it, but not in the way he suggested.

But there were unexpected times of surprising generosity. When we were dropped off at the gate to the Meknes medina, not knowing where our guest house was, a man we asked for directions told his son to take us there and when the lad showed us where the house was, I held out a coin to him but he refused to take it. I thought that was quite amazing.

Also in Meknes, we decided to see the agricultural fair which was being held at a convention center next to Morocco’s version of West Point. The cab driver had a meter but when we reached the center and I asked how much the fare was, he said it was free. Well, driving a cab is his job and we insisted on paying him but the thought was really kind.

We met many people who were very concerned at what we thought of their country: “Do you like Morocco?” we were asked time and time again and they were always pleased and proud when we told them how much we loved Morocco.

The agricultural fair was said to be the largest held on the continent and it gave the regions of Morocco a chance to show what they grow and make. We were interested primarily in the livestock and particularly in the camels but we saw birds and animals from all over Africa. Most of the visitors seemed to be from Morocco but some were obviously from other countries as well.
Our falling for the tour guide ploy went exactly according to our guide book. So did our experience with the carpet salesman. Now we had no intention of buying a carpet, which automatically eliminated about half of the stores we saw. It seemed like nearly everyone was selling what was purported to be hand woven Moroccan rugs. Well, we didn’t care and we successfully avoided all carpet salesmen until Meknes when the museum we wanted to see was closed and a man came across the street to explain it was a holy day and the museum would not be open until the following day. However, he knew of a place just as good as a museum where we could see all kinds of great Berber objects. Fine, so we followed him to what turned out to be a store probably run by the uncle of a nephew of a brother-in-law’s stepson. And the whole experience went just as the guide book said it would. The smiling, obsequious salesman who had his assistant serve us hot mint tea while the main man explained how young women wove these rugs for their wedding day using natural dyes and herbs they found on the hillsides near their rugged mountain villages. And every design had a specific meaning and every rug was hand knotted on a vertical loom. Blah blah blah. So he and his assistant pulled out rug after carefully folded rug, carefully unfolding each one and many of them were absolutely spectacular. And he had an answer for every question. Can’t take it home with you? We ship! And we’re trustworthy; look at this book of orders. Why, just this week we’ve sent rugs to Venice, Italy and Mobile, Alabama. Having been raised in Mobile, I had never thought of it and Venice in the same sentence but there you go. The rugs are too expensive? We have rugs in every price range. Though probably none in the “Free” range, I thought. Are these rugs too large? We have rugs as small as a square meter.

The only reply for which he had no response was “No,” and we had to say it repeatedly. Just let me give you a quote, he said. No, we said. Our prices are negotiable. No, we said. Can we look around the store? Because by that time I was wondering how to get out of the back room in which we were located. Of course, he said. I had already decided to buy something, anything, just to give him some money for his time. So we found some beautiful, and relatively cheap, Damascene jewelry which he didn’t mind selling us but even then he kept trying to get us back into the rear carpet part of the store. By this time Christian had already worked his way out into the street and I, too, kept saying, “No, thank you. No, thank you” until I, too, was back in the street and we were finally able to flee. As I said, the whole thing was the stereotypical carpet seller’s spiel but I did realize one thing, that when we return and we go into the High Atlas Mountains, I want to find one of the women’s cooperatives mentioned in the guide book and buy a rug from a weaver who actually makes them. I just hope they ship.

As I said earlier, we were able to use French instead of Arabic most of the time. On the rare occasions when we found ourselves with a merchant (usually an older man) who spoke no French, he would find a nearby, French-speaking merchant to help him out. But one, absolutely magic word the guide book said to learn is “La,” which means “No” in Moroccan Arabic. It indeed worked wonders. When a bunch of kids surrounded us begging for coins, we said “La” and they were so surprised we knew anything in Arabic that they vanished. Just as the guide book said they would. When a tout approached us at a gate into the Fez medina and wanted to guide us, I said “La” and he was so surprised that he started screaming at us: “La! La! La!” as he vanished into the Fez maze. But we weren’t always negative. “Shukran,” “blessings onto you,” was always received with great and pleasing surprise. At least we didn’t always have to use the language of the colonial oppressors.

We met a man from Bangladesh riding next to us on the train leaving Fez. He was a manager of a textile plant who said rising labor costs in China have made Morocco one of the hot new places for apparel manufacturers. A textile worker in Morocco makes 1,600 dirhams, about $200, a month and fully one-fourth of the country’s industry is based on textiles. Indeed, Morocco is known as the knock-off capital of the world. Gucci, Calvin Klein, Yves Saint-Laurent and Chanel are just some of the names sold on everything in the market places from hand bags to scarves. And all of them are fake. The man from Bangladesh hated Fez, where he had his textile mill, which simply endeared him to us. He was going to Rabat to see about moving his factory there.

The food was one of the great aspects of visiting Morocco. Everything was spiced but subtly and not with a heavy hand. Cumin, coriander, paprika, tumeric and saffron are among the most popular spices and they are sold in the markets in huge, colorful piles in varying shades of red and yellow. We also saw fresh fish being sold in the sun without ice to cool them off. Plus there were the butcher shops with camel heads stuck on posts. We ate as little meat as possible but even salads often had some kind of mystery meat on them. We decided it was better not to ask just what kind of meat we were served though camel, goat and mutton are the most prevalent varieties.

Baked goods of all kinds were our passion. Wonderful breads, better than anything we’ve had in France, were common and cheap and always made in wood-fired ovens. Cookies of all kinds were also plentiful and cheap. But it was the fruit we found most exciting. Orange trees are common even in the cities and oranges were in season. It had been decades since we’d last had tree-ripened oranges and juice stands are very common, featuring a variety of locally-raised fruits. Strawberries were also in season, heaping mounds of strawberries on tables in the markets. Sellers picked them up by the handful and the only thing holding us back from buying them was the question of just where those hands had been. Still, we had strawberry juice several times and it was always fabulous. One is asked whether you want the base to be made with milk or orange juice and the one time we forgot to specify orange juice we ended up with an odd frappe of milk and fruit.

The two main Moroccan dishes are couscous, typically available primarily on Fridays, and tajines, a kind of stew cooked by steaming in its own covered redware pot with a distinctive conical lid. The baking pot is also the serving bowl. We had a chicken tajine one evening and it was just spiced chicken and potatoes with a large variety of wonderful olives. Couscous, tiny balls of boiled and delicately flavored wheat flour, typically had a variety of vegetables and mystery meat. They seem much heavier in America.

Water was a worry but all restaurants serve bottled water. We had no problem with water until our last day in Casablanca when we picked up some kind of bacteria just from washing and rinsing our mouths. Fortunately the results were mild and didn’t start until we were back home.

Taxis were our principal mode of transportation when walking was too far. There are two types of cabs: small Peugeots and Renaults for in-town service and large Mercedes (always silver) for out-of-town transportation. The small cabs (and the king owns the concession on Renault and Peugeot) are supposed to be metered but that was not always the case and even if they were, sometimes the drivers preferred to make a deal in advance.

When we arrived in Casablanca we only knew our guest house was a couple of kilometers outside the downtown area. Several cabbies offered to take us for 50 dirhams. We offered 30, then 40, but by that time they were insulted and no one would take us. Finally a new cab arrived on the scene and we did not hesitate to agree to 50. However he did not know the address but some one pointed him in the general direction so off we went through afternoon traffic in Casablanca, which must be like driving through New Delhi or Cairo. The streets were absolutely full of cars and buses and everyone was driving like a madman and everyone was honking their horns and trying to nudge through traffic. Our driver tried to cross five lanes of traffic but even he gave up and went around the round-about several times, moving over a lane at a time until he reached the street he wanted to take.

He constantly shifted, as did everyone, from lane to lane, seeking whatever slight advantage the new lane appeared to offer. He had a wonderful perception of where the bumpers were on his car because while he came frightingly close to cars, buses, trucks and even trams, he never touched one of them.

Later on we were told that Moroccan men (seemingly like men everywhere) will never say they don’t know where a place is and we certainly found that to be true that afternoon in Casablanca. Once our driver made it out to the right suburb, he stopped numerous times to ask directions. Every person seemed to know exactly where it was but their directions never worked out. We were driving back and forth looking for the place. Once we were unknowingly within half a block of the guest house yet were still sent back in the opposite direction. But our driver was persistent. He finally stopped at a mosque and two men came over to help. One of them had a cell phone and called the guest house. We weren’t far from it. The driver earned his tip. It was also in Casablanca where we had our only female cab driver of the trip. And out of the hundreds and hundreds of sellers we saw, only a handful were women and they were young. We also saw a female baker but obviously women in business, in fact in any kind of occupation, is still a recent concept.

The large, inter-city Mercedes hold a driver and seven passengers and you wait in the car until it is full. There is a central cab stand in Meknes where people can get cabs for Volubilis, Moulay Idriss and other rural places. The cabbies offered to take just the two of us but then you have to pay for the other seats. When we said we wanted to share a cab, the drivers lost all interest in us but we had learned by then to just stand there and sooner or later someone will want to take your money. Finally our cab was full and we headed off to Moulay Idriss, named for the sultan whose mausoleum is there and is considered such a sacred shrine that five visits there is worth one hajj to Mecca.

When we were ready to go to Volubilis, just four kilometers away, our guide got a cab for us. The driver offered to wait while we toured the site. He swore we just needed an hour so I knew then he wasn’t interested in Roman ruins. Finally he agreed to come back in three hours to take us back to Meknes. Actually, it turned out he waited three hours just to make sure he got the trip while we were assured we wouldn’t be stuck without transportation.

Even the most unassuming people were often looking for ways to make money. When we arrived at the train station in Meknes to go to Fez, we needed a bank to exchange some money and another passenger actually took us several blocks to a bank and waited to take us back. On the train he explained he operated a tour service (which was no surprise by that time) and explained his prices for a guide and car in Fez were cheaper than anything we could find on our own. He gave us his card and asked us to call him, that he was always available, which I didn’t doubt.

On our last day we took seven different modes of transportation: electric tram, electric train, airplane, the Airtrain at JFK, the subway, bus and, finally, our van. Going east from America to Morocco was not hard in terms of adjusting to the six hour time difference. We took a late flight across the Atlantic that was only half full and the flight crew let us spread out so everyone had two or three seats to sprawl across for sleeping.

However going back westward across the Atlantic took an extra hour because we were heading into the prevailing winds. We left Casablanca at 2 p.m. and arrived in New York at 5 p.m., which really doesn’t account for the eight hours in-between. We ended up being awake for 25 hours. Driving back home at midnight, I had to stop for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to jolt me with enough energy to keep me awake. It took three days for our bodies to adjust to local time here. Each afternoon, I kept thinking it was time to go to bed by Moroccan time. Now, after a week, I finally feel like I’m acclimatized to local time.

So, we want to go back. We want to go into the Berber homeland in the Atlas mountains where it actually snows in the winter. We want to go into the desert and see an oasis and take a camel ride, at least for 10 minutes or so! And we want to spend more time by the ocean.

On our way back to our guest house on the tram from the beach, I found myself next to a young college student who is majoring in American studies, which he defined as politics and popular culture. And yes, his dream is to come to America.

His home village was in the Riff Mountains in the northern part of the country, not far from Tangier. He told us several places to visit near his hometown, including Morocco’s highest waterfall. He spoke fluent English with the only noticeable problem being singular and plural endings. “We have many new invention,” he would say. But I would hate to have him judge my French. Talking with him was like conversing with so many people we met on the trip; a brief yet intense encounter. As with so many Moroccans, he was almost instantly friendly and outgoing. He wanted us to know that Islam is a religion of peace, something several people emphasized. And as he talked about his hopes and dreams, I felt drawn to him as I had felt drawn to the country itself, open, friendly, attractive, alluring. And as with the country, we shared a brief, intense moment together, then our stop arrived and we had to get off, never to see him again. Later I thought I could have given him my address; we could have corresponded. But then I realized it was better just to have the experience and let it go because trying to hold on to experiences seldom works and one is too often left with ashes instead of memories. For now I have beautiful memories of him and Morocco and perhaps, fate willing, there will be more experiences in that beautiful country to come.