Fridays are for couscous. And it seems every Moroccan follows this tradition. Mokhtar’s sister and her family were kind enough to invite me over to enjoy it with them! It was the best couscous I’ve ever had. Amazing! It had kind of a spice to it and she served fresh hot peppers with it besides. She will give me the recipe and allow me to make it with her next week when I return to their home.
It was great spending time with these family members! Four children aged 16, 12, 7, and 2. Lots of energy and joy in that home! And such love. It was really a great time. The home is beautiful, which is always fun to see, but it was comfortable and they are wonderful hosts.
I slept on the Moroccan sofas in the living room with the 12 year old daughter and it was an excellent nights’ sleep with donkey hooves sounding down the street in the night, cats fighting, birds singing, and all kinds of other Moroccan city sounds! And then the call to prayer which always first wakes me, then lulls me back to a deep sleep. Ah, Morocco!
After sales training in Boston, I left for Morocco. But it was during severe storms and our plane was hit by lightening before reaching us. So that led to many hours of uncertainty whilst I waited in the Air France lounge. Thank goodness for that lounge because it kept me from having to deal with the thousands of people milling about who were also temporarily stranded at Logan Airport. And it made for an interesting time watching people! Always interesting to watch people, especially from other cultures. More Americans there than I usually see traveling, but then we were in Boston, after all.
So we were crammed in to the Air France lounge and a phone goes off inside someone’s hand luggage. Everyone was looking around waiting for the person to answer it because the ring was super loud. Finally, after a lot of scrambling, a 6-year old girl grabbed the iPhone out of her pink princess backpack and talked to her mom. It was cute and fun to watch her.
After many false starts, the plane finally took off, about 3 hours late. It made for a long day. And the flight was jam-packed so I was miserable and going crazy from sitting for so long, what with the sales meeting just prior. I was miserable. I managed to sleep for about 3 hours of the the 6 hour flight, which was better than nothing. It was a fairly tight connection in Paris but I made it with about 20 minutes to spare.
Having left my eyeglasses at home and having had taken out my contacts, I navigated Charles DeGaulle basically by luck. But not before seeing my own self in a mirror and trying to ask my own self a direction question, not recognizing it was me! I was embarrassed and rushed away afraid someone might have seen me make this crazy mistake!
We arrived in Casablanca on time. It all seemed smooth until we got to customs and there was no real direction about what to do. Two lines were long and slow-moving, so a few of us moved over to another line, yet it was unclear over there, too. A Moroccan man in front of me spoke English and I was able to communicate with him and understand him when he said, “They have couscous in their heads” and I laughed, knowing this is a common saying when someone doesn’t understand you or when someone is difficult. I reminded him that it was Friday and we both laughed. (Couscous is made and eaten on Friday all over the country). It was a nice connection and he was a nice man.
The customs agent asked me a zillion questions about my stay: with whom was I traveling, where was I staying, what’s the address of where I’ll be, what hotels and in which cities will I be staying. None of these questions I know the answer to, except with whom I’m traveling. “Is this your first visit to Morocco?” he asked. When I told him my third he relaxed a little and finally stamped my passport with a big smile on his face and sent me on my way, wishing me bon voyage.
Waiting for the luggage, my main piece came quickly around but I waited until the carousel stopped to no avail for the backpack. Luckily, the man who spoke English came to my rescue. He started when we were both waiting for our non-existent luggage by asking me where I’m from. I told him ‘Minnesota, USA’, my standard answer. He said, “Really? Wow! Minnesota. You betcha!” and I laughed a little but then realized how common (and tired) this joke is in the USA, but then remembered I’m in Morocco and how does he know this? He said, “I’m from Minnesota!” Knowing that men everywhere I travel are always trying to find commonality, I reacted coolly. So he went on.
Man: Where do you live in Minnesota?
Man: Where specifically? Uptown?
Me: (surprised he was so specific) Northeast
Man: Oh! By Surdyk’s? (the best liquor store in the state)
Me: YES! YOU KNOW SURDYK’S?
Man: Yes! I live on Minnehaha Parkway. I’m your neighbor! You betcha!
Turns out he’s lived there for 18 years, he’s a surgical assistant at Fairview Hospital, and he’s back here to visit his mother. And he’s just a really nice guy! It was delightful to have him to talk to.
But the best part, he had a man helping him with his luggage so when ours were among the missing, he whisked me and my passport away to take care of the situation. The whole while with a smile and a laugh that we are neighbors! It was delightful. And instead of struggling through the situation, we were in and out within an hour and a half (others had to wait much, much longer!). I didn’t have a business card to give him, nor did he. He showed me his Fairview entry card with his name as if to confirm he was telling me the truth. After being together for so long and feeling connected, and after he told everyone huddled together in that small room ‘our story’, the whole thing was over and I was leaving to meet Mokhtar. I was sad to say goodbye to that guy because he was a respite of happiness for me. Cheerful and kind!
So I left with my bags out of that crammed little room and headed confidently in the wrong direction! To which some of the other men in the room hollered, “Madame! Madame! Please!” and pointed in the other direction with their hands over their hearts. God I love Morocco. The kindness and helpfulness oozes from this place.
Mokhtar met me at the assigned spot after he had been waiting about 3 hours for me. With no cell reception and a waning battery, we were unable to keep in touch. It was great to see him anyway and we departed the airport into the crisp, cool Casablanca air. I was so happy to be back!
I’m waiting for the flight to Paris and then Casablanca in the lounge at Logan Airport in Boston. Ready for my third trip to Morocco in 13 months. Morocco 3.
Luggage is light this time yet I know I still brought more than is needed. 18 kg is the heaviest bag. 6 kg is the backpack. So I’m pretty proud of myself since a week of business travel just before this trip requires me to ship one bag home. Lots of packing and re-packing and organizing. Hoping I didn’t forget more than the eyeglasses I already realize were forgotten.
Everything seems situated enough on that end with plans for a brief stay in Casablanca overnight and then on to Fes sometime on Saturday.
Love this guy! He’s edgy and so is this installment of ‘Parts Unknown.’ Makes me look forward to next time I visit Morocco and I visit Tangier.
Famous TV chef, Anthony Bourdain, recently visited Tangier, Morocco for the show Parts Unknown in search of good food and an experience of its storied culture. He shares some local dinner table manners:
“Like anywhere else in the Arab world,” explained Bourdain, “eating with your hands — always the right one — is proper dining etiquette.”
In the article from CNN, Bourdain talked to some locals about the young artists, writers and musicians who come to Tangier today expecting a 1950s wonderland – and the fight to keep Tangier’s unique character alive. This international city that drew famous wanderers became a melting pot for culture and entertainment. But today, it’s slowly developing into a modern metropolis while retaining its old world style and flair.
“Tangier is Morocco,” Bourdain exclaimed. “Always was Morocco. And recently the country’s leadership seems to have embraced it in all its ill-reputed glory…
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Working full time can be draining. Especially in sales where it seems we’re always chasing/being chased by numbers. Good, but never quite good enough with this product line or that product line. Good, but not as good as last year. Good, but next year more is expected. Always room for improvement. While that constant treadmill of achievement is what drives me to be better and better, it does wear a person out. The blade gets dull.
To sharpen my blade, I travel. I have to. There’s nothing else in life that gives me the burst of life, the energy, or the enthusiasm that travel gives.
People tell me all the time they wish they could travel like I do. They think I have unlimited amounts of time to dedicate to it. I don’t; I just save up every ounce of vacation for it. And if it’s a priority, you’ll do it. As a single woman with no children, working hard year after year, travel’s what I choose to spend my time and money on. And it’s what has helped me become who I am intended to be.
I’m not sure if joi de vivre is what drives me to travel or if travel gives me my joi de vivre, but I know I’m happiest traveling through life. I have an exuberant enjoyment of life!
People frequently talk about how bad the world is/or has gotten; how horrible human beings are. I don’t buy that. Not at all. Reading back through history it seems people always think the world is worse in their time than it was in a previous time. Or they think they don’t want to raise their kids in ‘these times’. Again, I beg to differ.
While I’m not naive to problems and issues in the world, I don’t think people are bad. Nor do I think the world is overall a scary place. If it was there’d be far more horrible things occurring to each of us every day. There’d be far more scary days than non-scary days. And there just aren’t, for most of us. Sometimes I think people are most comfortable operating from a place of fear or a place of can’t. I can’t travel because it’s scary. I can’t go there because I could get hurt. I can’t leave because something might happen. I’m not going to try X because I might not succeed. I think our minds limit or stop many of us from trying new or unfamiliar things. And that includes traveling.
I believe we are all similar around the world, trying to live our lives in a way consistent with what we believe, to live happily, to connect with others, and to love those closest to us. Everywhere in the world I have seen that. I think that’s one of the main reasons I travel. It’s important for me to see how we are all similar no matter where we reside or what we do everyday in life.
I’m returning to Morocco in 20 days; this time to visit some of the northern cities. I’m saving some of those cities for a fourth trip back, hopefully with my friends Richard and Barbara.
During planning the guide asked me, “Will this be a vacation or a trip?” That’s always a big topic of conversation: trips vs vacations! This time it is most definitely a vacation. All I want to do is drink coffee, eat tagine, take walks through the souks and villages and countryside, and sleep! And of course, take photos. I’ve had a lot of ‘trips of a lifetime’ so this time I want to just relax. As my friend Mokhtar says, ‘Just tranquil.’ Only he pronounces it ‘trankeel.’ I love that word with that pronunciation.