Have you ever experienced that moment of utter excitement, and anticipation? It is usually right after making a spontaneous plan and right before everything that can go wrong, goes wrong.
My experiences this weekend don’t fall short of such sentiments. On Friday, I was waiting to go to the family’s farm for couscous, when my friend and I decided trek over to the city of Meknès instead. I had an ample two hours to catch a bus to Temara from school, gather my things, and take a bus back to the train station. There is only one antique, rackety 54B bus that takes me directly to my house from the city. I waited an hour for it to arrive.
At that point, I still had time to get back to Rabat under the two-hour mark. However, I fell asleep on the bus, and missed my stop. No worries, though. I had safely arrived in the Middle of Nowhere. A mule was leading the one vehicle that did pass by, and all seats were occupied. Eventually, I caught a petit taxi back to my house where my first order of business was to scarf down some couscous. That was not a great idea because I vomited it all out a solid ten minutes later. Lastly, the key to my room was tucked away in Sadiya’s apron back at the farm. This series of events definitely indicated that I should stay home, but obviously that was not going to stop me. Mashi mushkil.
Although the train station in Rabat is brand-spanking new, our luck provided us with a train that was probably produced when Morocco gained independence about 54 years ago. After standing in the train for a good three hours, Enchilada and I arrived in Meknès and over a span of two and a half days, we explored numerous towns near the imperial city.
Volubilis (وليلي )
The Roman Ruins were breathtaking. There is an area called the vomitorium, which usually refers to a passage through which crowds in an auditorium can disgorge. Apparently, this vomitorium was where the ancient Romans retreated to vomit after inhaling copious amounts of food. I could have used one just a day earlier.
After spending almost three hours exploring the ruins, we were walking over to the town of Moulay Idriss, when a man waved us over from his roadside fossil shop. He tried to sell us some rocks, but we were definitely not interested, so he offered us some mint tea. While we were enjoying that, he tried to sell us some of the best caramel (an even better code word) in Morocco. Again, we were not interested. Then he asked me to marry him. I almost accepted that one. The last thing he offered was a personal tour of the tiny village in which he resides. Finally, something kosher. On our journey through this village, we met Mohammad’s cousin who had just returned with a backpack packed with hashish from a treacherous journey through the Rif Mountains from Chefchaouen. The most remarkable aspect of this village was the incredibly fresh spring water that was available for wudu or to bring home with a mule’s assistance.
Moulay Idriss (مولاي إدريس)
Afterwards, we hopped onto a hippie bus to travel a few kilometers to the next village over, Moulay Idriss, which is named after the founder of Morocco’s first real dynasty, and a great-grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). His tomb rests at the heart of the town, and many believe that five pilgrimages to this site is equal to one pilgrimage to Mecca. That is blasphemy in my opinion, but I took full advantage of being a full-time Muslim and was allowed to pass the barrier into the mausoleum.
We met the family in the photograph above in a grand taxi on our way to Ifrane. I suppose they were intrigued with me because although I exude the faint scent of an American, I have an Arabic name was able to communicate with them in darija. Fatiha (in blue) insisted that we come to her home in El Hajeb for lunch, and so we made a pitstop. Fatiha, who is originally of Tamazight Berber descent, was on her way to visit her brother’s newborn son. She first brought us to her sister’s home where banana smoothies were served to hold us over till we went to her brother’s home for the real feast. I have an incredible amount of respect for the trust and hospitality that Fatiha and her family showed us.
Ifrane is mind-boggling. Its well-maintained cottages with steep roofs, and wide roads are akin to that of a Swiss town. It is probably the coldest place in Morocco, since it was developed as a French protectorate for families to escape to in the humid summer months. The kids in my family love Ifrane because it seasonally endows the nearby mountains with snow, a rarity in Morocco. I still think I walked through a parallel universe. (Kinza, you were right all along).
And with that, back to the grind.