"Traveling: it gives you home in a thousand places, then leaves you a stranger in your own land." - Ibn Battuta
My wife and I spent the past two weeks in the wondrous country of Morocco, hosted by our dear friend Melodie, who has made this land her home over the past two decades. It has been said that Morocco is a place that requires all five senses, which we would now corroborate, but may even include a sixth sense.
Travelling, one accepts everything; indignation stays at home. One looks, one listens, one is roused to enthusiasm by the most dreadful things because they are new.
Elias Canetti, The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit
That observation can certainly ring true; but it also seems true that we tend to glorify things also because they are new. "People are still just people" our friend Melodie would remind us. Day to day life is both dreadful and glorious, should we grow eyes to see past the mundane. Melodie did a good job of helping us to experience the sacred and the secular, the special and the ordinary, the heroic as well as the debased. Through several communities, we took in the sights and smells of it all: intoxicating spices next to refuse; rainbows of color next to the brown & gray of unfinished buildings; evidences of exotic wealth next to heart-wrenching poverty. Through it all, and over it all, we felt unfettered warmth, welcome, and the generosity that is akin especially to people who can appreciate the simple joys of life.
What I liked so much was their freedom from the constraint on time,” he says. “When I went back to Morocco it occurred to me that [in the United States] we don’t have this wonderful calm. They are daydreaming, what we would call in the west, ‘wasting time.’
A little imagination goes a long way in Fes. - Tahir Shah, Travels With Myself
We began by staying next to the Medina (old walled city), dating back to the 9th century. Fortunately, we had a guide the first day, as the winding, crowded dirt-brown stone lanes create a labyrinth that could keep you lost for days. The Medina consists of 127 "neighborhoods" which each have five key features: a mosque, madrasah (school), communal oven, fountain (water source) and a hammam (washing station) so that families could have all they need nearby. What was notable---besides the cascades to the senses noted earlier---was that behind each humble door was a myriad of dwellings, riads (courtyards), colleges, artisan and crafting studios that could only be discovered once led inside. Our guide explained that for tolerance and respect for others to be maintained, differences here are not to be flaunted.
From Fes we drove north to the coastal city of Al Hoceima, a jewel on the Mediterranean that only in recent years seems to have been discovered by tourists. Melodie lives in a village outside of the city, sharing a collection of houses with families that have become her own. Despite the language and cultural barriers with the adults, we enjoyed sharing life with them for awhile. The adorable children, ranging in ages from in the teens to babies, were especially delightful, and since they are learning English, fun to interact with. We went to the beaches, took hikes, visited other families nearby, and shared meals. Quite a different context then are own (so much of their daily life is devoted to all that must be done to simply survive), and it was glaringly obvious (at least to us) how wealthy we are in comparison; at the same time, it was just people being with people, communicating, laughing, playing games, eating together and the like. The universal truly trumps the specific if we allow ourselves to celebrate how we are more alike than different.
After saying heartfelt goodbyes to the families, we headed west down the coast, then up into the mountains to spend a weekend in The Blue Pearl of Chefchaouen. A truly magical town in which the Medina is coated in a blue hue that makes it feel like you're in a watercolor painting. The markets, cafes, galleries and places to sit along the river makes time seem to slow and moments rise forth to the surface. The final evening we hiked up to the old mosque overlooking the city, and shared with people of many tongues and styles of dress the simple joy of watching the sunset.
Just a day spent here, but we had the privilege of meeting and walking with the leaders of Green Olive Arts , a artist residency and collaborative art space that has the mission to resource creative individuals of both emerging and established artistic talent from around the world in seasons of inspiration, production, collaboration and cultural exchange. We walked through the Medina there, learning about the generations of artisans that have served and sold there for years and years. As in all the communities here, the people emerge in the late afternoon for evening strolls and shopping; throngs crowding the streets and alleys in a cacophony of voices, yells, blaring horns and sales pitches that seems both chaotic and surprisingly harmonious.
Perhaps that best sums up our experience here: a mixture of chaos & harmony that can only be attributed to spiritual. Though the calls to prayer from a thousand mosques go largely unheeded here, the sixth sense, the sense of wonder, is clearly evident in this place. I will not easily forget it; at least I certainly hope not.
Director Dan Oberg