New York - I landed in Casablanca early in the morning exhausted from my trip from New York.
New York – I landed in Casablanca early in the morning exhausted from my trip from New York.
My plans to sleep during the flight in order to arrive fresh and energized were ruined by an airplane full of crying babies. I was not in the best of moods when I deplaned and all I wanted was a quiet room and a bed. However, since my hotel was in Rabat, this was still a far away reality.
But something strange happened to me as soon as I walked into the airport: I was instantly infused with energy. I was greeted with smiles from everyone I encountered and escorted to a room where I was offered delicious Moroccan tea. I soon forgot my weariness and got lost in conversation with airport employees about how despite this being my first trip to Morocco, I was a sort of adoptive Moroccan due to the large number of Moroccan friends I have in New York. They were happily surprised by my familiarity with their culture, including the food and music. I felt like a child, anxious to finish the paperwork, suitcase retrieval and all the other processes and finally get out of the airport and into the country.
I had wanted to go to Morocco for quite some time and this trip happened unexpectedly. Every detail of the journey went perfectly. And this was because of the help and hospitality Moroccans generously offered me. My driver, Hassan, who took me to Rabat and accompanied me throughout my 10-day stay, was lovely. He was friendly and incredibly helpful. We laughed often at our communication methods.
I spoke some words of Egyptian Arabic to Hassan, which invariably made him giggle, some Spanish, some English, some Italian. He replied in Moroccan Arabic and French. We miraculously managed and actually had good conversations during our time together; he affectionately teased me, calling me “Masrya” (Egyptian). Hassan also took beautiful photographs of me at the Kasbah of the Oudayas, my favorite part of Rabat, a citadel with beautiful gardens, blue and white houses and a café overlooking the ocean.
Cheb Khaled’s “C’est la vie” CD had just been released and I was obsessed with it. Hassan quickly figured this out and during every outing we had, he played it. He gave it to me as a parting gift the day I left Morocco.
Rabat is beautiful, clean, and highly organized. It has a cosmopolitan air of sophistication that I instantly loved. I would be very happy if I lived there. I did not expect this. I had just spent months in Egypt and although I fell in love with the country, its amazing energy and the light in its people’s eyes and hearts, the level of chaos make existing there challenging and tiring. I was expecting Morocco would be similar. Instead, being in Morocco was easy, pleasant and enjoyable. People constantly went out of their way to help me.
Having many friends from Rabat living in New York and visiting their family homes meant that their mothers sent them large containers of food, shoes, and several other gifts back with me. I had no space or extra luggage to carry all of this. Not to worry, a journalist friend I made during my stay, who, despite his prominent position and how busy he is, was available for all kinds of inquiries, including where to buy the best pastries, giving directions to my driver, etc., made a suitcase magically appear in my hotel within half-hour of me mentioning I needed one.
The families of my friends treated me as if they had known me all their lives. They invited me into their homes for meals, drove me around the city, took me out to dinners, cabarets and night clubs to listen to music –I love Arabic music so this was a must for me–, and generally treated me as a daughter. A close friend’s mother even invited me to travel with her to Tangier. I felt like I was with family during my stay.
It is not an exaggeration to state I felt like a queen every moment I was in Morocco. In the beginning, this level of kindness and attention felt overwhelming, but after two days or so, my fear was that I felt too happy and was getting used to this treatment, and so, what would I do when I got back to my normal life in New York?
I was also surprised by how pleasant walking around on my own was. I was expecting to be harassed by men, accosted by vendors, and to feel generally uncomfortable. But none of this happened. I was shocked by how polite and respectful the men were. In my own country, Mexico, they behave worse, not to mention in most Mediterranean countries and in Egypt, where walking alone as a woman is definitely not a fun adventure.
My experience was similar in Fez and Tangier. People were friendly, gave me small gifts when I bought something, offered me tea when they displayed their leather goods, invited me to their houses for food, and endless other gestures of hospitality. I walked around in peace. I never felt nervous or unsafe, but the opposite. I felt that if I got lost I could ask a stranger to guide me back and I would be fine. This of course happened several times since I am terrible with directions even in my hometown. When I asked strangers for directions, they graciously explained to me how to go where I needed to. Sometimes, they even walked me to my destination.
At the bakeries and markets people treated me regularly, not as a ‘tourist’. I rarely had to haggle, something that is quite normal in many countries. I never felt I was being taken advantage of because I was a foreigner. In fact, I never felt like a foreigner. Moroccans made me feel their country was my own.
Morocco is an extremely beautiful country aesthetically and for the qualities of its people, who are full of energy, passion and humor. I strongly recommend anyone who has the ability to visit to do so. It will be one of the most wonderful experiences of your life.
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