By Zahra Astitou
By Zahra Astitou
Granada – “Où est la carte nationale? Ici c’est un nom marocain!?” The confusion at the passport control was great. The men in uniform were discussing my case amongst each other and paid little attention to me.
Having taken the boat from Algeciras, Spain to Tangiers, Morocco, I was surprised that none of the people in uniform spoke a word of Spanish. They didn’t speak English either, and my French was minimal, or so I thought. Before I knew it, I heard myself utter a far less grammatical version of: “Quel est le problème? Pourquoi vous ne demandez pas à mes amis américains s’ils ont une carte nationale? J’ai un passeport et c’est tout.”
It wasn’t exactly a warm, hospitable welcome, I can tell you. Those at the passport control later explained that having a carte nationale means that one can stay in Morocco for as long as one wishes. Staying in Morocco for more than three months without the ID would result in consequences. But I still did not understand the fuss; it was not like I was planning to stay in Morocco, especially as I carried with me a only single backpack.
I hadn’t set foot on Moroccan soil for the past five years. In fact, in the last ten years, I only visited the country where my parents first saw the light of day twice. I still cherish the warm memories I have of the summers I spent in the village near Oujda where my parents come from; visiting my grandmother and meeting up with my cousins who like me are dispersed beyond Morocco’s borders. But from my teenage years on, the country, or the village, somehow lost its appeal, and I did not want to go back to Morocco unless I would tour through its beautiful sites.
This opportunity came during spring break of 2014. I went on a road trip through the breathtakingly beautiful country with four American friends. The country stirred something deep within me and intensified my senses to the beauty surrounding me. The architecture, the colors, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the atmosphere, and even the people we met. Morocco truly is a wonderful country, I came to realize; yet it is a country marked by stark contrasts that aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
I was fascinated by the intricate details of the old buildings, disappointed by the needless waste and black plastic bags that disrupted otherwise amazing views and landscapes. Driving through the country, I noticed that almost each of the many mosques I came across seemed to have birds’ nests on top of their minarets. I found it profound that birds would choose to build their nests and start their families on top of a building that, five times a day, through its loud speakers, glorifies the name of the Lord and calls for believers to “hasten to worship” and to “hasten to success.” It truly left me awestruck.
I have always appreciated the Moroccan mindset that enables Moroccans to have a great time requiring only minimal resources. They do not need much to throw a party: with the right company and a diverse display of talents, a party can be held. One person starts clapping his hands, the other uses a table, bucket, box–or whatever is available–to drum. Someone else starts singing, another person starts dancing, and still others join in. That is exactly what we witnessed at Marrakesh’s Menara gardens, but also walking through the streets of Chefchaouen. It was disheartening though that just as we arrived in Marrakech at night, we witnessed the aftermath of a car accident in which a life had been lost. A corpse lay on the ground covered by a white cloth. I learned that reckless driving, most unfortunately, is a big problem in Morocco.
During this trip, Marrakesh and Fez captivated me as two of my favorite cities. We also visited Tangiers, Chefchaouen, Ifrane, Azrou, and a number of small towns. We planned on venturing as far as the Sahara desert, but in the end opted to stay in Marrakesh for an extra day choosing quality over quantity. In Marrakesh, we were invited by our guide’s aunt for tea, cookies, and delicious bastilla. Moroccan hospitality is unparalleled, bearing no resemblance to my experience at the passport control upon my arrival.
We were invited to come back the next day, a Friday, for some homemade couscous–an offer none of us could refuse. Our host left us momentarily only to return with pictures of her son, let’s call him Hafid. Though we didn’t think much of it, a proud mother showing us pictures of her son, the next day it became clear what this proud mother had in mind.
I was saved by my insistence to go pray the Islamic Friday prayer at a Moroccan mosque and was truly moved by the sermon addressing our mandate to treat our inherited bodies with respect and stay clear of that which can harm it. Meanwhile, back at our host’s house, the aunt tried to converse with one of the two American girls who were with me. Although she didn’t speak Arabic, the girl understood the following key words: “Hafid,” “zwin” (handsome), and “visa,” so it is safe to say my friends got the gist of the conversation. She then quickly resorted to the classic “I-am-so-sorry,-I-really-don’t-understand-what-you-are-saying” smile and accompanying gestures feeling rather uncomfortable, but not so uncomfortable that we didn’t laugh about it afterwards. The family’s hospitality and kindness still remains in our memories, as does the warmth we encountered with other families, though latter encounters excluded certain awkward situations.
That Friday in Marrakesh, we embarked on the long trip back home and spent the last night of our trip in Fez. All week we had had great weather, but on our last day in that beautiful country, it suddenly started to rain. It seemed as though Morocco was sad to see us leave, and, at least on my part, I can say that the feeling was mutual.
Translation of the French sentences:
“Where is the [Moroccan] national ID-card? This here is [/seems to be] a Moroccan name!?”
“What is the problem? Why did no one ask my American friends if they have a national ID-card? I have a passport and that’s all.”
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