Tuesday, September 15, 2009
0600 hours we port in Casablanca. Expecting palaces, markets, and magic carpets, I was surprised when we arrived in an industrial shipyard, a concrete land with grey barges and huge yellow cranes.
We disembarked the ship and I left for Marrakesh. Wandering the souks, my bright blonde hair was a catchy target for street vendors. Snake charmers, donkey riders,and Moroccans pulling large carts of tiny trinkets covered the hectic streets. Then there were the monkeys, cute little orange creatures on leashes. Without thought, I sprinted up to them as their owners were quick to put the animals on my head. Not one, not two, but three monkeys stood on my head that day. What a treat!!
Later at the hotel, I cross the street to get a coke.
"Where are you from?" A voice shouts from across the road.
"America!" I respond, squinting my eyes to see who is speaking.
It's a man standing outside of a small restaurant. He is quick to call his family outside.
"An American! An American! Come inside, American!"
If it were not for the women and children, I probably would have avoided his request. The situation, however, seemed safe- so I went with it.
This man owned the tiny restaurant/bar, and they invited me in for mint tea and pastries. It's Ramadan in Morocco, and this is some of the only food they can eat. They spoil me and stare at me. The kids touch my hair. I tell them about Tennessee and they mention Jack Daniels. They also speak to me like I know Michael Jackson, and offer me sincere condolences for his death. Thank you, I say. Not wanting to mention the fact that his death didn't phase me much. After twenty minutes, I leave. They give me their phone number and ask if I will return. I tell them I will try, and walk out the door.
The next day is spent on a bus for eight hours. Through the cliffs of the Atlas Mountains, we are going to the Sahara Dessert for camel riding and camping. While many were antsy on the bus, I enjoyed it. Winding through gravel roads, looking out the window at mud villages and mountains, I saw areas of the world I never knew existed.
We reach the Sahara Desert and I'm introduced to my camel, Booboo. Nomads lead us through the Desert to our campsite. Sied lead my camel, and we became friends as he taught me words in Arabic. "Salam Alaikum!" He would shout (Peace is what this means). I taught him to say Oh My Gosh. "Hohhhhhh my gosh!" Sied would repeat.
At night we all sat under the stars. The Nomads buried our feet in the sand and wrapped our heads in their (smelly) turbans. We sang non-sense songs and we danced. About to return to my tent, Sied looked at me and said,
"You want to ride camel?"
"Me? Ride Camel? TONIGHT?"
We weren't supposed to ride the camels at night.
"Yes." Sied said. "Meet here." He pointed up at a star (a constellation he had just taught me) and pointed down to the ground. "Here." He repeated.
Now millions of thoughts are going through my head. I CAN'T go out into the SAHARA DESERT at NIGHT with this NOMAD. What if he tries to KILL me? What if I disappear forever? What the hell is a Nomad, anyways?
I'm about to say no, when the word "okay" comes out of my mouth. An hour later, I'm walking towards this star trying not to question my decision.
The sand is cold on my feet and the lights from the campground are growing dimmer. I'm about to toss the plan completely when I see Sied and BooBoo, saddled up for a princess like something out of a Disney movie. Am I Jasmine?
We ride through the desert (not far from camp, as I still have slight fear of rape) but far enough to see more stars. I sing Disney songs and laugh and smile. In this moment, I know I never want to stop traveling. I also never want to stop taking chances.
Sied takes me back to camp (after no funny business, thank God). I drag my mattress from my tent and join other campers under a thick blanket of stars. My head hits the pillow and sand poofs over my face. It grinds between my teeth like eating...well sand...but I don't mind. Stars shoot over my head. I make a wish and fall asleep.
The next day called for more camel riding, and another long bus trip through the mountains. Hundreds of intense games of paper rock scissors, I spy, and 20 questions keep us busy until we arrive in Marrakesh. A night of hookah bars, people watching, and one more day of bartering for silly trinkets (maybe even a gift for you?!) and then so-long Morocco!
What a wonderful place..... I wonder what Ghana will be like?