Morocco has brought us some challenges. Which is a good thing really. No, seriously.
When we were preparing to leave Mexico, some people asked me why we were so eager to leave. We did love it there and had met some wonderful people. But I hungered to be challenged. Some might wonder if being a single parent and traveling with your child as full-time nomads isn’t enough of a challenge. Well, I suppose so, but Tigger and I have adapted so well that really, well, it’s become easy. Way too easy.
We spent our first 1-1/2 years of travel in Latin America. I already spoke Spanish fluently before embarking on our new lifestyle, so I didn’t have the challenge of language. I had already lived in Mexico and Ecuador previously. We lived in Honduras for 8 months where my life consisted mostly of dive, eat, dive, eat, sleep, repeat. A glorious life for sure, but not a real challenge. Except for the occasional student having a panic attack underwater.
Interestingly, my greatest initial challenge was learning how to slow down. Before we began a life of travel, I worked full time in a very emotionally demanding job, ran and cycled regularly, volunteered, had an active social life, etc. So busy was my normal. All of a sudden I found myself on a Caribbean beach with only maybe 3 hours of work to do a day. It drove me crazy even though I enjoyed it. Once I was finally accustomed to it, Utila helped slow me down a bit more.
Everything had become just so darn easy really. So, I was excited to go to Europe which would be a jumping off point for more adventures.
And then we arrived in Morocco. Hello challenges!
First we had the challenge of getting into Morocco. Then came the language issues. I have a very basic grasp of French. In the north you can get by with a mix of French, English, and my almost nonexistent Arabic. That was a good breaking-in for life in the south.
In southern Morocco, very few people speak any English. We’ve left behind the tourism-driven areas of Marrakech and Essaouira for “small town, real world Morocco.” There are many people here who understand even less French than me. The French phrase I now speak with the highest degree of fluidity is: “I don’t understand.”
The food is even more plain than up north. Tagines and couscous can only take you so far. Which, ultimately is fine since we live on an oasis about 10 km outside of town. We’ve found camel to be quite tasty, and as a kefta (ground meat) it’s really tender and easy to work with. Goat not so much. And because they’re Muslim, there is no pork. Edam is the most glamorous cheese we’ve been able to find.
I guess we can add remote to that list, eh? Yes, we live on an oasis. As in a green area in the middle of desert. It’s gorgeous here, and this time of year means you have comfortably warm days with chilly evenings. A perfect combination in my mind.
There are a few small stores nearby where you can get toilet paper, maybe bread, maybe eggs, some yogurt, some candy, and stuff like that. Our refrigerator is dorm room-sized (and runs off a small propane tank). So that means we make twice weekly trips into “the big city.”
Getting to the city is always an adventure. There are petit taxis that come by that will cram up to 6 people in them (not counting the driver). They only leave town when they have 6 riders, so you are never quite sure when they will be coming by. There are also grand taxis (mini buses) which will stuff in as many people as can they possibly can. They run on a more scheduled basis, but since they make frequent stops, you’re never quite sure when they’ll be driving by. Basically, once you get to the road, you can expect to wait anywhere from 5 minutes to 45. A trip into town for groceries is usually a half day proposition.
Why so long? Well, aside from the waiting to get into town, and a bit of a wait to get back, you can’t just go to one spot to buy all your groceries. The “super market” has things like pastas, beans, detergent, frozen meat. It’s either a short taxi ride or a long walk.
For anything fresh, you have to go to vendors. The butcher sells camel, goat, and supposedly beef. Seafood is right next to them, so that part is easy. For chicken, you have go to the chicken butcher. Your future meal is still running around and clucking when you select it, and after a few minutes you’re handed a bag containing your freshly killed and plucked chicken.
We go to our favored vendors for vegetables but usually have to go to another one for fruit. There is another guy I buy my olives from. Usually while they’re preparing my chicken purchase, I make another quick stop for bread at one of the pull carts. My favorite vendor gives me a brief Arabic lesson each time, which I really enjoy. The look on his face as I use words from our last visit is always worth it. If I decide to buy some alcohol, I have to go up an alley to a nondescript store to grab that.
Then, if you didn’t get it at the supermarket near the center of town, you have to stop by the dairy store to get milk. We have rabbits and chickens which eat a local plant as their main food source, so we have to stop by the guy who sells that bundled up as well. That’s usually our last stop before we head to the petit taxi stop (much easier to take these if you have a bunch of bags you’re carrying).
I make my living via the Internet. There is no cable, no dialup, no WiFi. We use 3G USB modems. Depending where you sit on the property, you may have fairly fast speeds, or you’ll be thinking “If only we could get dial-up speeds. . . ” Naturally, the areas with the best speeds are nowhere near an outlet, so your time is limited there.
If we hadn’t been trained for slow living before coming here, you’d find me up in the date palms giggling insanely and talking to myself in no time.
Being white-skinned and without a car (most of the few expats here have cars), makes us somewhat of a local oddity. We are gawked at quite regularly. When I smile and greet them with a salem or bonjour, they always seem a bit relieved as if they had been previously wondering if I was considering them as an ingredient in my next soup. Tigger is also quite amusing for the locals. On a bus, Moroccan children sit down and are quiet. Tigger amuses himself with a Lego man he’s brought in his pocket or by using me as a climbing structure, and he’s still learning what exactly his “inside voice” is.
Are you exhausted yet?
With all these challenges, one might be thinking “I bet they can’t wait to leave there!”
You’d be wrong. Yes, I’m being challenged, and I love it. I wouldn’t change a thing.
What place have you visited that challenged you the most?