Goodbye Morocco

goodbye.jpgAugust 19.  Today we leave Morocco and head to Portugal.  My feelings are mixed.  I am looking forward to less heat, less dust, less tagine, less anxiety about the water, fewer sick tummies (no matter how careful we were about the water), fewer 5 am calls to prayer from scratchy Mosque megaphones.  I am also a bit sad.  Sad that it will never again be the exciting first weeks of our trip, sad that we’re leaving our only stop in Africa, sad that we are now 1 country down on our 13-country adventure.

And sad because it’s hard not to feel like we somehow fell short in really knowing this place.

One grumpy evening, Coco (9) asked if we “are going to spend the whole trip just walking around looking at people and stuff.”  And, if I’m taking a negative view, I could say that’s most of what we accomplished in Morocco.  Yes, we’ve seen beautiful architecture, hiked amazing landscapes, and caught some semi-respectable waves in the Morrocan surf.

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Yes, we’ve learned a fair amount about the complex history and culture of this old and complicated country.  And yes, we’ve learned basic aspects of the Muslim religion that I am embarrassed to admit I never knew or bothered to try to understand.


looking up

But all of this exposure, while wonderful, feels like it has occurred at a distance from the actual people and true day-to-day life of Morocco.  As if the 6 of us are just voyeurs observing the life of this place through a lens blurred by our different language, our relatively short time here, and our very obvious and stark foreignness.

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To be sure, visiting Morocco live, rather than through a book or the internet, has allowed us to witness aspects of Moroccan life that we’d never otherwise see: children playing in the alleys of the Medina, late into the night, taking care of each other with little or no grownups around to ruin their games (one mother told us her kids stay up past midnight during the summer holiday and sleep until 11 am!); young men in football jerseys texting away on their smart phones as they ride their donkeys to the work (no room for cars on the narrow path to the souk); master embroiderers (all men) embellishing intricate jellabas as the Rio Olympics play on the flat screen tvs in their tiny shops; women chatting and laughing at the entrance to their local Hammam, the traditional Moroccan bath where women gather twice a week to gossip and socialize.

sodaThis feeling of separateness is in no way attributable to a lack of warmth or welcoming from the people we encountered.  As we walked the market, hiked the trails, or lingered in the surf line up, the people of Tagahzout, Imlil, Marrakesh, Fez, Sefrou, Bahlil, and Meknes were (almost) always friendly, flashing encouraging smiles when we attempted to exchange a Muslim greeting or took the easy path with a universal “ca va?”  The children especially were greeted with delight and affection (even a kiss on the check), especially blond little Phoebe (4).  I have to believe these interactions, however superficial, are somehow meaningful and worthwhile for all involved.  But they do not dissolve the feeling of being on the far outside looking in.

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It’s probably presumptuous, unrealistic, and American for me to expect any more.  Would it be possible to know the “real Morocco” (if such a thing exists) even if all of the barriers I mention above were removed?  Why should these people want to share their real lives with us?  Is this feeling of separateness just a more extreme version of the separateness we feel from people who live lives different from our own in the U.S. or just miles away in our own city?  Is it entitled and annoying of me to even be asking these questions?  Would it be better for me to stick with cute pictures of kids on camels on this blog?

Probably.  But I can’t not consider what we can d do to make sure that, even with this perhaps inevitable feeling of remove, Brendan and I still accomplish one of the main purposes of this trip: to show the kids (and ourselves) that there is a big wide world outside of the very narrow slice of life we live in Chevy Chase DC, a world that is not just fodder for likable Facebook posts or compelling college essays a few years down the road, a world that involves people who are very different but, in many ways, very much like us.  People we should remember and respect when we make choices back home.

Any thoughts or recommendations very much welcome.  In the meantime, we’ll keep walking and looking.


A Deep Dive with Phoebe


During Our 8-Hour Layover at Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport

So Phoebe what is going on in with you right now?  I am at a French coffee restaurant called Paul.

How did you find yourself here?  My parents took me because it’s part of our trip.

Tell us about your trip.  It’s a round the world trip. 

Do you like the trip?  Yes, because we get souvenirs.  I got a Hand of Fatima necklace that is a good luck sign.  And I got a belt at a woodmaking store.  I met the guy who made it.  He is nice and he was also making other belts. I’d like if mommy got one of the sparkly ones. She would look sooo funny in it!

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Do you like everything about the trip?  No.

What do you not like?  That my parents haven’t put enough kid things into it. Like, SERIOUSLY!!! I wish we could just go to the playground for a whole year.  I have seen one playground ever on this whole trip.  It had an airplane ride at it.  It was very hot and mommy said her tummy hurt but I know she just wanted to leave.

What is your favorite thing you have done on the trip?  Riding a donkey all by myself.  And going on a swimming pool picnic.  We had to take a taxi to it from the Riad to get there. Me and William and Coco and Holly played this game where we pushed each other into the pool. I also drank A LOT of coke and then I got really hyper.

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What is your least favorite thing you have done?  When my parents were mean to me and didn’t let me have a popsicle or my iPad because it was a consequence.  But then I sneaked my iPad and watched the Taylor Swift documentary.

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What is your favorite place we have stayed?  The place where I got the Princess bed. It was purple and bigger than all the other beds. All the other kids had to sleep in small twin beds.

Who is your favorite person you have met on this trip?  Omar, the donkey guy.  His donkey didn’t have a name so we named him Donkey McDonker Face.

What are some of the other animals you’ve met?  Snakes and a baby goat and lots of donkeys and a mule and camels and bed bugs and cockroaches. (Holly especially liked the cockroaches)

What are your thoughts on tangine?  I liked the tangine last night.  It was meatballs and eggs.  I didn’t like the other tangines.  I don’t like eggplant.  I will never eat it again.

Interesting.  Thanks for your time, Phoebe.

Interview conducted by William.

Bhalil and Sefrou, Morocco

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Here we see Alex bravely traversing a plateau marked by a butte that looks a little like her hat.  We arrived at this spot yesterday under the guidance of the most excellent Kamal Chaoui, our host for a two day visit to Sefrou and it’s smaller neighbor, Bhalil.  Kamal has a guesthouse in Bhalil and we loved it and we loved spending time with Kamal and I could go on but Alex has promised to write about him separately so I’ll leave that to her.

Way off in the distance beyond Alex, you can see a very small  white farmhouse.  We ended up there and enjoyed a great lunch of lentil soup,  grilled kefta, and melon, hosted by some Berber farmer friends of Kamal. The kids at the house were shy, just like our own, when we arrived but eventually they all invented a non-lingual game of soccer/tag that occupied them while the grownups had a siesta under an olive tree.  The skies opened and the grownups hurried into the living room while the kids took cover in another room that turned out to belong, much to Phoebe’s delight, to the cow.

We parted ways once the rain stopped, and the kids gave each other high fives and hugs and posed for goodbye photos:

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Great feelings all around, especially for the Chevy Chase parents exposing their kids to a world without everything we’re used to, like electricity (they do somehow have cell phones) and school.  After three weeks of such encounters in Morocco, though, we wonder if we’re really seeing how these people on the other side of the world live.  This lunch was an arranged affair, as have been almost any of our conversations with Moroccans that have lasted longer than 90 seconds.  As we walk through each town’s medina and exchange   one of our two Arabic greetings with locals, we aren’t getting any sense of how they live, what’s on their mind, or what really worries them. We’ve heard a handful of mentions of Syrian refugees but certainly haven seen a trace.  I wish this weren’t the case, but it may not be possible without living in one place in one country for much a longer time than we’re willing to commit

We leave Morocco in 36 hours for 2 months in Portugal and Spain, where we will re-acquaint ourselves with the comforts of the First World.  I am sure that we will have more opportunities to get to know locals, and that the culture gulf will be narrower than that between the outer reaches of Bhalil and Northwest DC. Whatever the case, I hope our kids remember their counterparts  in the photo above and Alex and I would like to think they’re better off having spend some time together.

Heavy stuff, but I’m happy for anything that distracts from Phoebe’s current rant about why she didn’t get a popsicle after dinner (she says it’s because her mommy is mean and this trip is no fun).  Thanks for reading, and I’ll leave you with a photo that I like from tonight’s pre-dinner card game on the roof of our guesthouse here in Moulay-Idriss. Phoebe had not yet realized that she would not be getting dessert.

roof moulay idriss BRIGHTER