Morocco’s Gift

 

Sometimes, a single week is enough to change your life. Sometimes, one haphazard beginning is enough to change your world.

I arrived in Fes well after sunset, in the company of a classmate from Paris and a guidebook that neither of us had read. The next five days passed by in a whirlwind: the narrow, twisting medieval streets of Fes, redolent with the smells of leather and kiln smoke, where toothless men on donkeys shouted balaak! to warn pedestrians to get out of the way and where the work of traditional artisans blurred into a fabulous display of painted pottery and cactus silk scarves, elaborate metalwork and intricate mosaics. An overnight bus brought us to the edge of the desert, where we rode our camels out among the vivid orange sand dunes and played drums and sang with our Berber hosts under the stars.  Out under the Milky Way, as we watched bright comets shoot across the sky, I made myself a promise: I would return to Morocco one day. Not just to visit, but to live.

My fascination with Morocco was not one that many people understood. In the early 2000s, most of my friends in North America could barely find Morocco on a map. One branch of my family seemed to think I had become obsessed with the tiny European principality of Monaco. Those who did realize that Morocco was a country in northwest Africa asked me in hushed voices why I wanted to spend time in such a strange and seemingly inhospitable place.

It was, indeed, difficult to explain. How do you tell people who have never left the US about the colors of the desert, about the play of light and shadow among the dunes? How do you explain the magic of the sunset call to prayer as it sweeps across a medieval walled city, passed along from one minaret to the next? How do you capture the warm hospitality, the endless cups of mint tea shared among new friends? It’s nearly impossible to express how deeply Morocco had marked me in just a few short days. The need to go back felt like the need to sleep or breathe.

Two years after that fateful first journey, my vow to myself came true and I returned to Morocco to live. I hiked in the High Atlas Mountains and wandered among the Roman ruins of Volubilis, strolled around the picturesque port city of Essaouira and haggled in the souks of Marrakech. Every day in Morocco was a gift. With each new place, with each new adventure, I felt my wings opening a little wider. Every day, I felt a little bit more free.

Though I have returned to the US now, Morocco remains the country of my heart. My whole career now is dedicated to building cultural bridges between the US and North Africa, and to helping the people of North Africa thrive. From my haphazard beginning so many years ago, I’ve built a path to change my life. I’ve taken the gifts that Morocco first gave me, and I’m using them to try to change the world.

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