(The view from the train window, somewhere between Fez and Marrakesh, Morocco, October 2010)
Let me tell you a story, in three parts.
Scene: Two weeks in Morocco, end of the fall, 2010. No, this is not a story about love. Well, not that kind of love anyways.
Often, when people ask me what my favorite country or city is, I say (after mentioning that all places are beautiful): Fez or Singapore. Singapore because it’s basically incredible. Fez, in Morocco, because it feels like I left a part of me there. I only spent three days in Fez, lovely magical Fez. I would wake up early in the new downtown area, in a shabby little hostel run by a creepy middle aged man. I would make my way over to the old medina souq, often walking the whole hour there. The medinal ateeqa (“ancient city”) is the oldest, largest, still in tact and fully operating souq in the world. It’s absolutely huge and loud, colourful and smelly, with the narrowest streets, and the tiniest shops and stalls. I would spend the day ambling and getting lost in the souq, getting heckled to buy something, messing up the still-wet henna on my hands, taking a calligraphy class, having tea in an old minaret that’s now a cafe. And then, I would find myself at the centre of this incredible mess: praying in the oldest established and longest running university in the world: Masjid al Karawiyyin. Listening to the birds chirruping, the water flowing, the people reciting Quran. And then, I would see my friend. Someone I met in Turkey, a long time ago, we barely spoke the same language, we came from opposite ends of every world imaginable. And yet, exploring another person’s mind never felt so good.
I remember feeling such sadness and isolation. I left Fez and took an eight hour train ride to Marrakech. It was one of the strangest eight hours of my life. So many thoughts and conflicting ideas going round and round, and nothing to keep me company except the most beautiful countryside scenery outside. That train ride is embedded in my mind. I will never forget those three skinny cows grazing on the grass in a farm on a rolling hill as the train ambled past.
I spent three days in Marrakech. Bustling, insane, absolutely bonkers yet beautiful Marrakech. I went to the Jam al Fena, the huge open courtyard, that gathers thousands upon thousands of people every night of the year, in a mish mash of street food, story tellers, magicians, cobra charmers, belly dancers, souq. I rode behind a girlfriend on her vespa all over town. I experienced a real and very steamy women’s hammam, the local traditional bathing house. The Yves St Laurent garden, planted, designed and inspired by the man himself, in all it’s glory. I played with the kitten on the street. And then, a friend took me home and introduced me to his family. Harmless harmless introduction. Accompanied with homemade Moroccan bread and couscous and probably the kindest and most genuine host family I’ve met in a while. Needless to say, I feel in love with Moroccan food in Marrakech. And after it all, I took a train back to Rabat to say goodbye to some friends, have a last cup of my favorite tea in the world, and to go on to Mauritania. Before I left, I got an email from my friend in Marrakech. It was an honest and beautiful message. Full of potentialities and courageousness.
This is not a love story. This is a story about love. Not the mushy lovey stuff that turns your brain into baby food. It is Love for another person’s spirit. Unwarranted, on any side. Unasked for, on both sides. Undeniably inevitable. Love for all the potential possibilities. Love for the Love.
Yet, it still amazes me, that in all the time I spent in Morocco, in Rabat, Casablanca, Meknes, Fez, and Marrakech, and all the soul-defying experiences I had and beautiful souls I met - it is those three skinny grass-eating cows in the countryside that continue to stick with me wherever I go. Every time I think of Morocco, I remember that train ride. That in-between day, filled with neither heres nor theres. And when I look back at it now, I realize that it was that train ride which was the mid-point of the see-saw. There is balance in everything we do, but why do we often enjoy letting ourselves teeter and totter here and there? That train ride was the ability to give love and receive love, it was the ability to not pursue either and yet find the balance in between.
And to just keep appreciating that balance.