Act I: Morocco. Scene 1: Eat.

My trip started by sleeping on the couch. Sock’s family graciously hosted me so I could be closer to the airport for my 7 am flight, and even give me a ride. I was grateful for that!

Off to NY on Virgin, the middle seat was gloriously empty and the flight was fast. We even left on time, despite the sequestration furloughs. Sadly, the doctor is right, I don’t have an ear infection, in just deaf in my right ear. Failed surgery. That is going to suck.

I went searching for my last meal. The only maps of the services I could find were inside the baggage scanning area. I was scolded for being too close because I couldn’t read them, the the guy explained they were so out of date, I’d be better off not using them. Dear JFK airport, how am I supposed to decide to go through security before or after finding lunch? And yes, I had plenty of time to make that decision.

New Yorker’s hate vegetarians from what I could tell. Or at least the International terminal does. All the salads also include meat because that is what supposedly makes a meal. The McDonalds and Sbarro lines were packed. I spotted a sign at the Korean place that said something about bipmbap being good for vegetarians. I was sold.

I snuck in a gigantic wheat beer before my flight. I hid in the corner of the bar so that my flight mates might not notice and was the awful person talking on my cell phone to my family. Whatever. Sometimes even I break the rules.

The flight was barely a third full. We all had our own aisle. Mine only had two seats, but I’m not really complaining. Royal Air Maroc may not be the most luxurious airline, but I won’t complain because I actually got some sleep.

As the sun rose, we flew over southern Morocco with its numerous agriculture fields. It reminded me first of Wisconsin with many lakes, but maybe they were reservoirs. Hard to tell. It looked a lot like Nebraska, but with amoeba shaped fields instead of planned out squares.

That is all I saw, right up until we landed. Casablanca airport is outside the city, surrounded by fields. Somehow, I expected it to be more like the South Bay, where San Francisco is connected by suburb after suburb to San Jose. This was fields, fields, airport, fields, city. But I hadn’t found the city yet.

Landing at six am and trying to find my way around the airport in a place I don’t speak the language is always stressful. I had two goals: call to say I’d arrived, and find my way to the Consulat des États Unis.

Customs was easy. The agent didn’t ask me any questions. The bag check was busy and they just waved me and a group of grey-haired American women through.

I was ejected into Morocco like a newborn baby—unprepared.

The airport was like landing in Bangor, Maine. Actually, there might have been more people in the Bangor airport. About a dozen people were waiting for friends and family and another half dozen drivers with signs. Other than that, it was empty.

My cell phone wouldn’t pick up a carrier, so I found one pay phone that would take change. I needed a guichet bancaire to get cash. There were three. I chose the one with the most stickers and hoped it wouldn’t eat my bank card. I found an English menu, but it didn’t like my card. I had to use another.

I bought a water by pointing because I don’t know how to pronounce eau. I used the smaller coin first and called my friends. As the time was running out, I put in the second coin, but the phone just ate it. The call ended abruptly.

The train station was right there, on the -1 floor. The security guys looked at me funny because I couldn’t figure out which door to go through. They finally just pointed. I’d missed the 7am train. The next wasn’t until 8 am. I didn’t know what stop to get off. There was a guy in the billet booth and an automated billet machine, but I still wasn’t ready. I can’t even imagine how people who don’t speak English feel when they show up at JFK. It must be completely overwhelming. I, at least had English signs to get through customs.

It was too early and I wanted something a little easier than a train ride, so I went through the door to go back upstairs. The security guards made me go back into the train station area and put my bags through the bag stand and go through the metal detector. I hadn’t taken my phone out, so I pulled it out of my pocket. Without getting up, they waved me to get my bags and just go. The escalators weren’t working, so I tried to take the elevators on the left that I’d come down on. No elevator came. The waved me to the two elevators on the right, one of which was closed off for maintenance. I got in to the supposedly working one and headed back to the 0 floor.

Off to the taxi stand I went. The taxi driver who chose me was second in line. I’m not sure why the first in line didn’t want me. His loss. I handed the driver the piece of paper on which I’d written Consulat des États Unis. No address. Just that I needed to go to the US Consulate. He understood.

On the dashboard of his car was a red puffy Apple sticker with the word Maroc and the country flag imprinted on it. It was old and dusty. I said I liked it. He tried to give it to me. I took a picture and gave it back for others to enjoy. Hopefully I didn’t offend him. I’m pretty sure the sticker was not company sanctioned.

The driver spoke some English, so we had the occasional conversation. So far I’m impressed by the number of languages people here speak. Arabic, French, and occasionally English. The driver tried to teach me some words in Spanish for the next part of my trip. I hadn’t gotten through Act 1 yet.

He said 200Dh, but when I asked him to repeat it because I can’t hear out of one ear and I wasn’t sure I’d heard right, he said 300Dh. So I didn’t tip him.

He left me at the cement barriers and guarded gate of the Consulat des États Unis. He spoke to the guards. The guards asked if I had an appointment.

No, I’m just meeting friends. They have an appointment. Where is your passport? Here. Welcome, please enter.

I was now behind the large metal construction containers that held dirt and trees and other greenery. The next guard asked for my passport. I said the same thing. He sent me to the girl in the window.

I explained to her I was just looking for a place to hang out until they arrived. She said I was welcome to wait on the bench. I sat there as a curiosity to the guards.

I figured out how to get a phone service, but I couldn’t figure out how to make a call. I asked a guard. He didn’t know and didn’t understand me. He told me to ask the girl in the window. I sat and watched the line.

There was a kitten at one of the guard booths. It was cute. I wondered how long it would survive with the chaos around it. Driving in Casablanca is like driving in Mexico City. Lines aren’t even a suggestion. For a while, I actually thought you were supposed to drive with the line running through the middle of your car. Cars, small trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, people pushing carts, donkeys pulling carts, and people walking or running across highways was the norm. It was sheer madness!

I watched the guards and the line and the guards watched me. Eventually, my friends, H & J arrived with their little boy to prove that I wasn’t just making up some story.

Yay! Friends! People I could talk to. Relief. I understand why groups of immigrants flock to the same part of town. Familiarity. Comfort. Sense of home and belonging. I wish everyone in the US understood this feeling of being in a foreign land. It might help with compassion and empathy.

They went to their appointment and I hung out for a while longer. One of the guards awkwardly sat with me on the bench. We silently bonded.

Next, it was lunch time! Little did I know that this part of my trip would be the Eat portion of Eat, Pray, Love. Well, okay, I knew it would be, but I still wasn’t quite prepared.

We took a cab out to J’s sister’s place. There, we had breads and olive oil and argan oil and olives and honey. Traditional Moroccan mint sugar tea is everywhere.

Back into Casablanca, I was starting to have a hard time keeping my eyes open in the car, but managed. We drove past Western style shops and schools letting out. Clothing is a mix of western styles and traditional. According to the Lonely Planet guide, 70% of the population of Morocco is under the age of 30. So styles are changing with the younger population. There is also a lot of unemployment. We drove past some of the makeshift housing that I’ve never seen in the US. I’ve seen some really poor housing, but this really is so far past that. I can’t remember driving by anything like it in Mexico or Costa Rica. But it is like videos I’ve seen of Brazil.

After the shops and schools came the large walled houses on the hill, then down to the Atlantic Ocean. I asked if the water was warm and they said yes compared to the Pacific, but another family member today said it was summer and hot out, but it is in the high 50’s right now. She is pregnant, so that might explain the temperature discrepancy.

We went to the largest mosque in Africa. It overhangs the ocean and is outright incredible. Beautiful detail work and the closer we got to it, the more majestic it became. It was prayer time, so I wasn’t allowed inside, but J was, so he took some photos for me. I was useful by standing at the door and explaining to some German tourists that it would open for viewing at zwei Uhr.

On the way back to Rabat, I could barely keep my eyes open. Little A and I fell asleep in the back seat. I woke occasionally to see the scenery. After getting out of Casablanca, we were back into fields until the boarder of Rabat.

At the place in Rabat, I met the woman who is considered J’s Second Mom who cares for the flat and helped raise J, and J’s pregnant sister. Her English is much better than she gives herself credit for. And much better than I can speak in any other language.

I met Little S, Little A’s sister, who at first was shy and sleepy, but at age six, is quite a handful. I played with the two of them for the afternoon. They were born and raised in Portland, Oregon, but have been living here in Morocco for the last two school years. Their Arabic is excellent as well as their French. When other adults were around, they refused to speak to me in English. As soon as we were alone, I became a curiosity and they switched to English while we played hide-and-go-seek and red light green light. Little S painted me a picture and made me work with her on some addition problems, so I tried to teach her how to carry. She isn’t quite ready for that, but she will be soon.

They were amused by my wearing a tank top under my sweater and kept trying to get me to show my shoulders. I have on a 3/4 length sleeved shirt today to correct that mistake.

As soon as the other adults arrived, it was back to not speaking English to me.

We ate. We ate a lot. Not long after arriving, there was a full meal. A tray of vegetables, more breads and dips. A cucumber salad. Grilled eggplant. Then the second course came. Meat, root vegetables and tomatoes done in the big clay pots with teepee shaped tops. All for sharing.

I’m trying to learn how to eat. Bread is an important part, and very much not in my diet in these quantities. It is used for soaking up the juices and for scooping out food. I’ll figure it out eventually.

And tea, always sweet tea. Tea just appears out of nowhere any time of day.

The flats are configured interestingly. There is a formal sitting room where built in benches outlined with throw pillows line three walls. This can double as extra sleeping space for house guests. The dining rooms are set up the same way, but smaller, and with rolling tables that can be brought into the dining area.

So far, bedrooms and bathrooms are pretty much the same, although the shower I used was still the typical European bath tub with a shower head added on to the faucet as an afterthought.

H’s brother arrived early in the evening. He’s been living in Canada, so his English is excellent. We talked about going down to the medina. Luckily, this didn’t happen because I was exhausted.

Soup and tea appeared before the kids went off to bed. As everyone left, I attempted to take a shower. It became a bath when I couldn’t figure out how to turn the shower head on. Hopefully I didn’t break it. The water was pretty cold. I didn’t stay in for long.

Sleep was good. I got eight hours and could probably use a nap already. Second Mom made me a huge breakfast. I really can’t eat this much. I had one piece of bread with some jam. Half of the porridge type soup, some tea and a glass of oj.

She doesn’t speak English, and as we know, I don’t speak Arabic or French, so we are kind of at a loss. She came into my room, made the motion for eating and said mangia, which is the same in Italian, so I understood. But I wasn’t hungry. She was putting on clothes for going out. She took me on the balcony and pointed across the street. I thought she was going out. Then she wanted me to put on shoes. Finally, I realized I was to go with her. But I wasn’t hungry. I asked if I could grab my things. I threw on a sweater because it is cold out, put on socks and shoes and grabbed my purse not knowing whether I was going to meet people and might not be coming back.

We went downstairs. She held my hand as we crossed the small street and parking lot. We went into the shop she’d pointed to.

A butcher shop. Just where I wanted to go as a vegetarian. I just smiled and laughed to myself. There were illustrations of animals and the French words for them hanging around the small shop. Three large display cases, and two guys working. One guy in line ahead of us ordered something small.

Second Mom ordered and a big rack of beef was taken out of the display case and a large section was hacked off in four strokes with the cleaver. A small bone cut off, weighed, a chunk of fat removed, reweighed. Agreement. Two other people came in behind me not sure what I was doing there waiting in the sidelines. I tried to sneak a picture with my phone. It came out fuzzy. We left and came back inside.

Now I’m trying to finish this up and pick through photos before the next adventure arrives!


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Mom on April 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    All I can say is WOW! looking forward to the next chapters! Love you!


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