A Month in Morocco: To Be a Better Man

I napped while the train rolled north along the west coast. As the steel wheels lumbered along rust-pitted tracks, I dreamed of men shouting at me in Arabic. I woke up confused—and a look out the window made me think of Baja. Trash fires dotted the sandy, barren stretches while kids on ratty bicycles rode along the parallel tracks, throwing rocks. The ocean was flat and calm, only an occasional white breaker proved that life existed outside my empty train car. My journey through Morocco had been a joyful indulgence and it was only a month ago that I was starving for it. I had purposely set myself apart, gorging daily on new experiences. But eventually I traded this active seeking for passive absorption; I now felt comfortable in Africa, comfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t ready to go home. Not yet.

I reread my journals, all 323 pages. There was some pretty cool stuff in there besides all the external details of my month here. I had written about my nightly dreams and reading them as a narrative braided with reality was fascinating. I had jotted down lines from the two books I carried, then tried to explain how they moved me. Some of my words made no sense as I revisited them—as if the inspired moment couldn’t exist beyond its writing. Nonetheless, Kwame Dawes’ Back of Mount Peace and Ellen Bass’ Like a Beggar, both books of poetry, were lovely companions. Scooping up a Steinbeck in Erfoud was perfect, too. I probably read Travels With Charley 30 years ago but it didn’t resonate with me as it did this time around. I finished it wondering how I can become a better man in this life. I am hopeful.

It was also fun to discover bits of poetry I wrote, as well as moments that I thought would make for a short screenplay. Like leaving on a bus from the Sahara desert, remembering Mohamed telling me that the color of dunes determines their medicinal properties, feeling nostalgia as they disappeared into flat desert, passing children as they waved, passing a group of laughing women riding donkeys sidesaddle, the call to prayer over the bus radio. These are the moments that I wanted to take home. The ones I wanted to share with others. I decided that later I’d try to draw these scenes rather than blog with photos. I thought this might better convey what was happening inside.

Upon my arrival in Tangier, taxi drivers didn’t harass me for a lift. I walked to my hotel and in my room, a sticker showing the direction of Mecca was affixed to the desk. I turned to face where the arrow was pointing and stared at the corner of a white stucco wall. I got cleaned up and went for a walk in the medina, grabbed some dinner at a falafel stand, bought a Paul Bowles book at the Librairie des Colonnes, sipped espresso at Café de Paris, and decided to get a haircut. It was 10pm.

I returned to a shop I’d previously walked past and sure enough, it was still open but empty of customers. The young barber spoke enough english for me to explain what I wanted, haircut only, no shave. As he rowed the clippers across my head, I kept noticing him looking over his shoulder and crack up. I asked him what was so funny and he turned off the razor, turned around and grabbed his iPhone. He was Skyping with his wife while cutting my hair. I told him to move the phone if he wanted, so he placed it on a cabinet facing us. For the rest of my haircut, his wife lovingly watched her husband give me a buzz while occasionally waving or giving me the peace sign. She never stopped flashing her beautiful smile.

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