Finally in front of a blank piece of paper, conjuring up the muses to help me do justice to the tumult of feelings and emotions experienced in our December trip in what was my first contact with North Africa.
My Moroccan experience was one of people and humanity. Not discounting in any sense the surprising verdant beauty of the North part of the country, the soft and inviting green, rolling hills crossed on our way from Casablanca to Rabat and Fez, the stunning desolation of the Middle Atlas mountains, or the dramatic peaks, glittering in sun and snow, of the High Atlas mountains on our way down South to the gates of Sahara. Not to take anything away from the majesty of ancient cedars, or the silence and reverence of the palm oases, springing up wherever a trickle of water makes its way in the landscape. And of course, not to forget the exquisite architecture, wood carving, mosaic works of art that are in fact objects of use in daily life, the stone and marble fountains, and fascinating doors. Ah, the doors…
But this, to me, is first a story of a people; a glimpse into humanity and intimation of a style of life, bare needs, and feelings, and emotions worn on djellaba sleeves. Human contact on a personal level is unavoidable… walking the narrow streets of Medinas, life taking place under your eyes hits you at every corner. Here is the barber shop and two customers inside, grooming openly, almost on the sidewalk. Next is the baker, feeding the fire of an underground pit, displaying on his window little round loaves of bread so inviting. And then you see a cluster of women wearing baking dishes or personal grooming essentials and you know you’re close to a hammam, unmistakably next to a bakery whose fires also feed the hot water of the baths. Few more steps and you run into the man carrying the Moroccan tea, served everywhere, at every time of day… small silver tray, beautiful silver teapot, tea glasses filled with fresh mint and blocks of sugar awaiting the destination and the ritual of tea pouring (pulling), to aerate this much revered refreshment.
After another corner, here is the fountain, an ancient work of art, with carvings and mosaics, where women fill their buckets and containers for daily needs, seemingly oblivious of the beauty, and history, and holiness of the fountain. Yet, the reverence to water in this country is palpable.
And boys play football everywhere… If they are not harassing you, the traveler, to sell you something, show you the way, or take you somewhere for a change, then they play football… in every narrow alley, filled with cats, they run in ragged clothes after a ragged ball, shouting in joy, blissfully unaware of their poverty and yet their richness.
This is the trip where I have most interacted with people on a very personal level: from the woman who allowed me inside the second biggest mosque in the world, Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, to our host in Fez, kind and gentle Amal, a middle-age woman, manager of the beautiful riad we stayed at, who almost told us the story of her life in our first evening… to our teenage guide in Fez. And then… the Berbers of the South; Youssef, the owner of the Kasbah we stayed at in Merzouga, a candid and open-minded gentleman with whom we had a meaningful, long conversation on life and values, touching taboo subjects such as religion and politics. I will never forget my hour in the desert with two nomad women, Hadija the teenage girl and her mother; we visited with them, had tea and conversation, our guide Ismail helping with translation. I will come back, with or without the muses, to write about the desert. The tour we took in the morning, to see the colors of the day, to glimpse the life on the outskirts of Sahara, the lot of the nomad Berber tribes, the sub-Saharan African tribes’ settlements with their music and dance… And unforgettable and forever transforming is the time spent sipping tea and talking with Hadija and her mother, witnessing their bare existence and embracing their warm welcome and humanity… that morning in a forgotten corner of the world moved me to tears and deeply humbled me.
And then came the evening… this is my one story of the 1001 Arabian nights… We left the Kasbah, this ‘fortress-oasis in the desert’ in the afternoon, on camel ride, to spend the night in a traditional Berber tent. The colors of the dunes, the sky, the shadows on the sand, the soft pace of the hour, experiencing this incredible union with our two camels and our guide Hassan… And then, the night… the fire, the drums, the stars… ahh… the infinitude of stars, so far, so close… the sky was nothing I have seen before, alight and different from the sky at home, and all the other places on Earth I have raised my eyes from… This desert sky at night felt like another home, perhaps an ancient home, newly recovered yet always present within, perhaps the home of undreamt dreams. It felt like I could almost catch a star and dream the Dream with open eyes…