This past summer, my dad and I took our second trip to Morocco to see more of the wonderful country, drawn back to the North African paradise. Morocco has a magic about it, stemming from its architecture, the mixture of Arab, African, and European cultures, and the exotic aura of such an ancient nation. Visits to its crumbling, old palaces with ornate geometric tiles and carved plaster moldings, with cracked marble fountains amidst Andalusian gardens in the courtyards, provided a respite and peaceful oasis in the dusty and bustling life of the cities.
After a delicious breakfast one morning at a Berber patisserie in Marrakech, another day’s adventures began. We ambled through the Bahia Palace and Dar Si Said palace, stumbling upon the latter after wandering the winding streets of the southern quarter of old Marrakech for quite a while, eventually seeing the faded sign on an obscure corner. Both were testaments to the wondrous talents of the artisans of old, who carefully painted the carved cedar doors, and laid the small ceramic tiles to cover the floors and pillars.
They were beautiful buildings that somehow seemed to emanate peacefulness while we walked through the inner harem chambers and among the carefully tended rosemary and impatiens plants in the gardens. The morning of exploring and appreciating the antiquated architecture of Morocco came to an end when the sun grew too hot and intense for us to stay in its glare any longer, and we returned to our small riad hotel for a midday rest. The sole fan in our room brought a faint breeze to the heaviness of the hot air, and I drank a bottle of the refreshingly ice-cold water we bought at a stall down the street.
I read, studied French, and wandered up to the rooftop terrace that overlooked the pink plastered buildings of the city. Sounds drifted my way from the huge main square of Djemaa al-Fnaa nearby, and I smiled at the constant drumbeat and the muezzin’s afternoon call to prayer. Soon after seven, we left the hotel to wander through the markets of the medina before dinner.
Young men sped by on bicycles, and their shouts were the only warning to move aside on the narrow cobblestone streets. The shops that lined the streets sold everything from key chains to clothing, and old women squatted on blankets spread with trinkets and small bowls of spices for sale. Upon reaching Djemaa al-Fnaa, cries of, ‘Gazelle!’ rained down on me from the men perched atop their orange juice carts, urging me to buy a glass of juice.
Not trusting the cleanliness of the glasses they offered, we continued across the square onto the street that led into the area of the medina with shops full of textiles and spices. Mounds of olives were arranged on long counters, and the sour and salty smell of them perfumed the air. On the opposite site of the street were narrow shops selling both traditional Moroccan clothing, and knock-off designer tee shirts.
The colors everywhere were so vivid; it was a delight to my senses, and after walking around for an hour we headed back to Djemaa al-Fnaa for a light dinner. There were hundreds of food stalls selling grilled meat, fresh vegetable salads, and delicious fresh bread. Down a side street, I bought a grilled ear of corn for a few cents.
I relished the sweet and smoky corn that had a wonderful crunchy texture, and was almost too hot to hold with my fingers, it was so fresh. We sat down on a narrow metal bench at a small food stall, and my dad ordered a sandwich, along with sweet mint tea for us. As we ate, I was entranced by the people streaming by; there were big Moroccan families eating together, wary tourists being lured into stalls by smiling and cajoling waiters, and sad-looking children offering packets of tissues and balloons for sale.
The food stalls of Djemaa al-Fnaa truly embodied the essence of Morocco, and the hazy air and sounds of snake charmers and drums still remain in my mind. I feel incredibly grateful for the privileged life I lead in America, and traveling has opened my mind to the world that exists beyond my home. I now realize more than ever that who you are, and the people you surround yourself with, not your possessions, create an incredibly happy and fulfilling life.
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