I’ve posted some photos below from my vacation- this is a pretty long post, so just scroll down if you don’t want to read it all
One of the best parts about traveling for me is getting to experience the culture of the place I’m going to. Until now, I’ve mainly traveled domestically in the US; it’s such a large country with so much diversity on its own. My excitement about going to Morocco was mainly about being in a place so far removed from my own little world, I just wasn’t sure how different it was going to be. For those of you who have been surrounded by people speaking a different language than you, not knowing remotely what they are saying, you can understand. For those of you who have never experienced this, nothing humbles you more. Imagine being in a crowd wanting desperately to ask someone a question. They do not understand what you are saying and even if they spoke back to you, you would have no idea what the string of sounds coming out of their mouth would be. You feel infinitely small and helpless, relying on everything you learned in primary school and thanking that all the signs have pictures on them.
When we finally arrived in Marrakech, we took the short walk with our luggage to my friend’s apartment. I still didn’t quite feel like I was in a foreign land though. Je parle francais, so I understood most of what people were saying, or could piece everything together at least. That didn’t feel too foreign to me. My friend’s apartment was comfortable, modern and homely; no different from my own at home in Florida. It was on the way home from dinner that it hit me where we were. We were walking the empty streets, deserted because of the fast breaking meal (our trip coincided with Ramadan), when it echoed throughout the streets. It was like being in a movie about the apocalypse; first a siren and then singing coming from all directions around us. It wasn’t until the empty streets and the call to prayer that I finally felt immersed in a different world. The souks, or markets, are a completely different story. Each step you take you are bombarded with a new sight, sound and smell (not all pleasant, but usually spices of some sort).
I take for granted a lot of what I have back in the US, as I think a person does when they are used to living a certain way. When we took the two day journey through the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara desert, I passed mountain villages I thought only existed in magazines like National Geographic; men riding mules, women harvesting the fields and carrying the crops in bales on their heads. It was no stretch to imagine that this way of life has existed largely intact for hundreds of years. The kids played with bottles and sticks in the street and starred at our van as it passed. It was a relief seeing kids play with a ball rather than have an iphone in their hand. It reminded me of when I was a kid; we had a Nintendo, but we still preferred to play outside till our moms called us in for dinner.
We got to the Sahara after a very long journey, the massive reddish orange dunes stretching on forever in front of us. The silence hit me before the heat did. You could literally hear the san moving from dune to dune as the desert inches its way across the continent. After the assault on the senses that is the city of Marrakech, this was amazing. The colors were few, the sounds were even less. There is beauty in nothingness and the best place to experience it was here. That night, we hiked our way into the desert and sat atop a dune hundreds of feet tall and watched the sun set over the black rock desert that stretched on beyond the edge of the encroaching desert. That night, when the stars came out I nearly wept. I saw the Milky Way as if I was in space and was humbled by the amount of stars in the sky. I felt tiny and realized just how insignificant my life was in the grand scheme of the universe. It wasn’t a sad moment, but a relief honestly. Gazing into the eternity of the universe took some pressure of my shoulders, my reflective thoughts only broken by the hundreds of shooting stars presenting themselves to our eyes.
The next day we took a camel train out into the desert a ways, our 19 year old guide Hassan staying silent most of the way. As we sat, watching the sunset once again, we talked to him. “Do you live here?”
“Just in summer. My family lives in the mountains sometimes, here sometimes.” Actual nomads.
“What do you do for fun?” “This”, he replied, flicking sand with his hands. His answers were short- he wanted to practice his English with us he said. “Do you have a favorite food?” He had a quizzical look on his face. “No… here, in the desert, there is no favorite food. You eat whatever you have and you like it.”
More than anything else I experienced, the mountain villages, the poverty in the medina of Marrakech, the though provoking night sky, more than all of that, his answer humbled me. The mosque at the edge of the desert sounded the breaking of the Ramadan fast and continued with the call to prayer. Our guide looked relived that he could eat again. Just imagine being in the desert with nothing to eat or drink all day long. Just try and imagine what that would be like for an entire day, then stretch that out for a whole month. Now put a smile on your face and you’ll know what Hassan felt like.
It so easy to take what I have back home for granted. There are 4 McDonalds within 3 miles of my urban apartment. A grocery store is next to me, starbucks all around, malls everywhere and blessed air conditioning. When I get home, I’m going to do my best to not take it all for granted. And if I have to go without something for a while, I’m not going to complain- as none of these people did. It will not be the end of my life if the power goes out and I’m without a/c for a few hours. After all, it was 120 degrees in the Sahara, and our guide was thankful it wasn’t hotter.
That night, I taught my favorite card game, phase ten, to Tuareg nomads and they attempted to teach us how to count to 12 in their language. We laughed and joked, had mint tea together and toasted to life, inshallah. Life is amazing.
If you ever have the opportunity to live, even just for two weeks, in an environment totally different from yours, I recommend it. It will change your life. As I sit now in a train compartment, heading to Fes for the next leg of our trip, I look forward to anything that comes my way. Unless its another sand storm, cause that shit hurt.