I have a confession to make: I do not like planning. When it comes to traveling, my mentality is, ‘let’s get there first and we will figure it out later.’ It’s impulsive. It comes with a large degree of uncertainty. But الحمد لله, it has not failed me. Someway or another, things just fall into place.
Understandably, my friends are not as excited as I am to test our luck. When I told them that we should go to Tangier for the weekend, they battered me with questions: Who else is going? How are we getting there? Where are we going to stay? What are we going to do?
I, of course, had no answer to any of their questions and my response of ‘we’ll figure it out when we get there’ was insufficient. My friend Assia solved all our dilemmas when she said that she has family and an apartment in Tangier (what a pal!).
We left Ifrane early Friday morning and embarked on our semi-planned adventure: one Grand Taxi to Meknes and a four-hour train ride to Tangier.
Our stay in Meknes was brief, since the Grand Taxi dropped us off right in front of the train station. We met with Assia’s mom, picked up sandwiches at a nearby cafe and boarded the train.
From the train window, Morocco unfolded before me. The landscape revealed everything, from the breathtaking views of the mountains, hills and meadows, to the economic and social issues the country is facing, to ecological pollution in many rural towns– nothing was kept hidden.
Strategically located at the entrance of the Mediterranean, bordering the Atlantic ocean, considered the gateway to Africa, and only a few kilometers from Europe: Morocco was heavily contested by the colonial powers. At one point in its history, Morocco had been sandwiched: Spain controlled the northern and southern parts while France claimed the middle.
With Spain, France, Britain, and even Germany contesting for Tangier, one of the jewel cities of Morocco, they decided to declare it an international city (an independent and autonomous city-state) rather than fight over it.
The locals of Tangier embody this history. They not only do they speak Arabic and French, but many also speak Spanish and English.
As we disembarked from the train, the sweet smell of the nearby ocean filled my lungs. Reda, Assia’s cousin, picked us up from the train station to take us to his house where his mother had invited us for lunch.
In Morocco, having guests over takes on a different meaning than it does in the States. What Assia’s aunt offered us was nothing less than a feast: beghrir, msemmen, harcha, crepes, couscous, tea, all homemade and mouth-watering. I ate until I thought I was going to pass out from calorie-induced stress.The hospitality Moroccans show their guests is unmatched. While many economic indicators would classify Morocco as a developing country because its GDP is not at a certain level, they fail to take into account how generous its people are or how kindly they greet each other or even how much of the country’s wealth has been extracted from it by the powers that be.
Sure, we have skyscrapers, eight-lane highways, and 3D printers. But spending one day in a New York City subway will show you just how cold and detached we have become from each other or how we are missing people and money can’t buy that. Compassion, hospitality, humility and humanity, are just somethings that GDP will never be able to take into account.
Assia and Latifa translated for us as we introduced ourselves and learned more about each other. While the language barrier is a stubborn brick wall — it is able to be overcome. While we might not speak the same language, we had many others things that connected us.
We said our good-byes and promised each other we would be back soon.
Reda would be spending the weekend with us, helping us navigate through his city. Between the two of us, we spoke four different languages yet we didn’t have one in common. But that didn’t deter us from becoming very good friends. I would speak in Spanish, he would reply in French, I would ask him a question in English, he would explain it in Arabic. While we only captured a portion of what we were trying to say, we understood each other.
As we drove through Tangier, I could not feel more at home. Tangier resembled Miami in many ways– the palm trees, the ocean, the optional traffic laws, the night lights, the energy the city was emitting — I felt at home in a city I had never been to before.
We made our way to the apartment and settled in. Our friends Omar, Ali and Hamada joined us shortly afterwards since they drove from Ifrane. They brought a suitcase full of Moroccan snacks: chips, cookies, crackers, candy bars, and other goodies. Let me tell you, munchies is an international language.
Generation Y has a lot more in common than what we would initially believe. The language, optional. The country, arbitrary. We grew up watching the same Hollywood movies. We listen to the same music. We know how to have a good time.
That first night in Tangier, we bonded like 20 year olds do all over the world. We spoke whichever language seemed to fit our needs. But ultimately, I realized that the important things in life can’t be explained with words anyway.