“Welcome to Rabat. Welcome to Morocco. Welcome to Africa.” The words of our guide in Rabat. We had a guide for the full trip, Muktar, but usually had someone local in cities we visited. At least for some part of the visit. Sometimes for the souks. Or for a particular historical site, as with the Roman ruins of Volubilis. On the whole, Muktar officiated with splendid ease as he was well informed, articulate in English and had a lovely sense of humour.
It took a while to feel as if in Africa after landing at the airport in Casa Blanca and being whisked from there to our hotel in Rabat. North Africa, with its many similarities to southern Europe and the Middle East, reminded me of what I knew and might have seen of other places. But as we made our way south after Fes through the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara, the sense of being on another continent gradually coalesced.
There were sights and sounds and smells to satisfy the most demanding traveler. We went from a rainy day in Menkes to the Roman ruins at Volubilis with gradual sunshine emerging in Fes, then through the snow in the Atlas Mountains where there are ski resorts and chalets that look like Swiss or German ones. Beyond that, further south, the majestic Sahara.
My memorable moments include a streetcar ride in Rabat with my roomie, Zarina, out to the end of one line. We talked to students and learned about them and the university. Then returned on the same line to the stop nearest to our hotel. This was at the very beginning of a trip that took us over vast distances to explore the ancient history of this land as well as developments down to the present. There is, for instance, a monarchy which governs there. However, the king is very modern and has made many changes that have left people content with his rule. He is the first king to marry a commoner and she is the first wife of a king to expose her face in public. Apparently she has red hair and freckles.
I suspect my most memorable moment will remain a visit to the Berber family of one of our three personnel on the bus. Jamal, a young man of considerable good looks and quiet charm, was the assistant to the driver, Mohammed. Neither spoke English, but I managed to communicate with the two of them with my fractured French. Jamal kept track of the tour participants, counting and assisting us. He was often navigator for Mohammed, in and out of tight parking, for instance. The tour guide, Muktar, an educated, articulate man also had a charming sense of humour.
In any case, the visit to Jamal’s family home came after we left the Sahara. Jamal had left the tour for the day to share a religious feast with his family. The arrangement was for the bus to pick him up as we continued along our route the following day. As we approached his village, we were told arrangements had been made for our group to visit his home where we would also be served traditional Moroccan mint tea.
Four generations of the family were represented in a simple compound with the structures a mixture of clay/mud with various other materials such as something that looked like healthy bits of straw. Some of it was open to the sky. It was quite simple. In the large room at the front, which was covered, we were asked to sit around the room on benches. A table was spread with local delicacies such as dates and almonds and walnuts as well as tiny cakes/cookies. We watched while an uncle of Jamal’s went through the ceremony of making the tea, something not many people in Canada would have the patience for. We had been given six gifts by Muktar to present in what was presumably customary fashion.
The tea was prepared with much ceremony and then passed around in small glasses either with sugar or not. By this time, I got up to go out into the courtyard as I had been sick the previous night and still felt vulnurable. Out there I found little children and a brother of Jamal as well as a place to lean and take photos. One of the little girls brought me a flower and was pleased when I learned her name. Then I tried to get the names of all the children and Jamal’s generation as well. They all beamed with pleasure.