A Month in Morocco: Remembering How to Travel

I woke up tired and sore. I thought of doing some stretches and was reminded of a dream I had during the night: I had just finished a yoga class when a woman with bright yellow eyes asked me if I knew any poses good for low-back pain. After I made a few suggestions, she hugged me, and as our bodies pressed together, my back buckled in agony.

On a stretch of sidewalk lined with orange trees, I met the woman from my dream. She stepped in my path as I tried to walk by, and squinted as if daring me to pass. Her large, honey eyes were all I could see of her body, the rest hidden beneath her head scarf and veil. Our standoff was short and when she let me continue, I could tell she was smiling, maybe even laughing. But I heard nothing, just steady traffic that sounded like a hive of bees.

The bus ride from Chefchaouen to Fez reminded me of being in Baja Caifornia. The landscape reached across horizons, empty of human presence. Giant rain puddles from last week’s deluge turned endless fields impossibly blue. When I finally saw people, everything was new. Men on donkeys with flanks loaded with sticks or farming tools, groups of women riding shabby mopeds along the roadside, burning trash piles that resembled fantastic bonfires, and children in threadbare clothing waving at passing traffic.

In Fez I stayed at Hotel Bab Boujloud where I met Mohammed. He took me to Café Clock where we drank espresso while he gave me a lesson in Moroccan history. Mohammed invited me back to watch the café’s weekly jam session the following night. He and his friends played flamenco guitar, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley covers, and with accompanying drums and other instruments, rocked out some traditional Moroccan music. I felt a little out of place—I was, after all, the token old guy in a crowd of 20-somethings. But when they started in on Bon Jovi’s “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” I felt right at home and sang along at the top of my lungs between sips of mint tea.

At Café Clock, I took a cooking class with the head chef, Souad. She taught me how to make a smoky eggplant puree called Zaalouk, a chickpea soup called Harira, a vegetable tagine with a traditional Charmoula marinade, and honey macaroons with her secret ingredient, grated coconut. Souad’s progressive attitude, her interest in social activism, and her worldly yet humble intelligence reminded me of my favorite Carrboro chef, Vimala Rajendran. Spending the day with Souad was like spending the day with a dear friend.

There was no doubt I was falling for Fez. Both the art and music scenes were alive and thriving, and the people I met were smart, hospitable and fun-loving. But for some reason, on my third night in town I had trouble getting to sleep. I tried to wind down by watching Arab Idol and Libya MTV but screen time only stimulated me more. I did a mental recap of the past week noticed that everything was starting to gel. I had forgotten that it always takes a week or so to remember how to travel.

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