Looking Back on a Year in Morocco

Monday, October 5, 2009 | Ar-Ribat, Morocco (map)

In 12 months, we have managed to cover a lot of ground, but Morocco is larger than you might think, with more to see and do.
For Jacqueline and me, Ramadan's passing had another, more personal significance: it marked a year since our arrival here in Morocco.

On first reflection I feel like the year has rushed past. But then I recall all that we've done and seen and survived. In just our first few months, we found a first home in Fes, learned to navigate the old city, road tripped through northern Morocco, visited Spain without leaving Africa, mastered shopping à la marocaine, expanded our culinary horizons, helped butcher a sheep on 'Eid al Adha, dragged my family around the country, skied the Atlas mountains, and suffered Fes's endless street harassment.

Those nearly six months in Fes, while probably the defining epoch of our Moroccan experience, were trying, to say the least. The palace in which we ultimately settled had no roof over its courtyard,
leaving us exposed to the elements during four months of nearly constant rain and biting cold. As the winter bore on, the newspapers declared it the worst in 60 years, a fact which did little to dampen our misery.

But we bundled up, dutifully, day and night, and soldiered through. If we wore socks and two layers of long johns, and slid under our sleeping bags, a down comforter, and two thick wool blankets, sleep was possible. The propane heater helped, too, so we kept it on each evening until our heads throbbed from the fumes.

* * *

Staying busy ultimately proved as difficult as staying warm. After we returned from a week in Paris in early January, my finances had dwindled and my Moroccan Arabic improved to the point where further language classes no longer seemed worth the money. While Jacqueline headed to her daily Fulbright-sponsored tutoring at the American Language Institute, I fiddled with elaborate cooking projects ("Quince compote, anyone?"), tutored kids (one little girl, really) in English at a local American school, and made a half-hearted attempt at starting a writing career.

With no organized activity, and a strong desire to avoid the mean streets of the Fes medina, mostly I just sat around questioning, second-guessing, and doubting myself. What am I doing with my life? What am I doing in Morocco? Shouldn't I be working toward a career? A degree? Some greater good?

Just a few months earlier, when I moved to Fes with Jacqueline, I had had the answers to all these questions. I had left a dynamic job at a great organization in Washington, DC to come here, and now I was just navel gazing. It didn't help that that writing career culminated in a single unpaid article, or that after thousands of hours of work, my blog's total cumulative value to human society (according to Google AdSense) was only $34.12. Half of that was probably my sister clicking on ads out of pity anyway.

I considered finding a job with a local carpenter, but didn't really pursue it. I wrote to a friend in the US, "I hear goat herding is nice." I read some of the many books we'd brought with us, trying to busy myself and avoid sweeping life questions. Mostly, I huddled in blankets, counting down the days until we would move to Rabat.

* * *

Eventually, Jacqueline grew so fed up with the street harassment that she was ready to leave Fes as well. In February, a month earlier than planned, we decided to pack it in, and found an apartment in Rabat.

The housing search was stressful, the move a huge hassle, but both proved well worth the effort. In Rabat, we felt like we had moved not 200 kilometers to the west but 800 years into the future. Suddenly the comforts of home were all around us. We jogged every day in a public park, and walked the streets without harassment or even stares. Within walking distance of our apartment were a bakery, wine shop, grocery store, and market. Soon, we even found places to buy pork—an unimaginable luxury in Fes. Best of all, we started making new friends, both Moroccan and foreign.

Determined to find a job, I sent my CV to every international NGO I could find, and received far more responses than I ever expected (or than I ever did back in DC). Within days of our arrival in town, I was wearing a tie and going to work every day, shuffling papers, and speaking more French than Arabic.

The winter of my discontent was officially history.

* * *

Predictably, I suppose, work eventually lost its early luster. But by and large, Rabat itself has not. We've enjoyed the theater and cinema, quality restaurants, big pop concerts, surfing in nearby Mehdiya, the intimate jazz festival, weekends at Temara and Skhirat beaches, and a generally more relaxed and liberal atmosphere than we ever found in Fes.

Jacqueline and I have continued to travel, both in Morocco and through Portugal and southern Spain. But now that our departure has begun to loom, I have started to worry that I won't have a chance to cross off all Morocco's many sites by the time we leave. (Ultimately, we decided that yes, we will leave in mid-December as originally planned, though what will follow is still very much up in the air.)

Imagine that—wanting to stay in Morocco longer. Oh, the irony.

My job keeps me on a tight leash these days, but Jacqueline and I do have a few last adventures planned for our final 2.5 months here. In addition to those stories, I hope to share some of whatever wisdom I may have collected here in Morocco, through all the many ups and downs. There's more to come, so check back often. Thanks for reading.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yo. I'm not sure you remember me, even though we're facebook friends (we were both in CIEE Jordan). Just wanted to say I enjoy your blog, which inspires me to pursue my own travels when it becomes possible. Hope the rest of your time in Morocco works out for the best.

Andrew G. Farrand said...

Cool, I'm glad you're enjoying reading. Best of luck in your travels, too!

Ryan said...

This summary is perfect Si Andrew! Makes me yearn for the good old days of your crazy culinary adventures.

Andrew G. Farrand said...

Si Ryan! you just want me to make a huge pot of chili again, don't you? ha, soon enough...

Maggie said...
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