Thursday, July 18, 2013

Our first night in Morocco...

The entrance to Chellah Gardens - Steve, Antonella, Veronique and Vincent

Isn't it amazing to reconnect with friends from a long ago chapter in your life and find out that you can pick-up where you left off, twenty-five odd years ago?

One of our main reasons to visit Morocco, apart from sharing the journey with our dear friend Veronique, was to see our mutual friends Antonella and Vincent who were at one time a big part of my life when I lived in Belgium in my twenties.

I moved back to the states in 1988 at the age of 28, and we all went on with our respective lives and careers, staying in touch a little here and there.  Between my three friends above, they have since then collectively lived in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Jordan, Hungary, The Philippines, Malta, Turkey, and now Morocco and I suppose I am forgetting a few places along the way.  Can you imagine how jealous and cheated in life they felt upon realizing that I had been in Atlanta and Naples that entire time?  I know, I know...I hate it when it is so much more obvious that my life has been super-duper exciting compared to theirs.  Being the friends they are though they bore me no ill will and pretended that they were happy for me.

Arriving in Rabat was so exciting I was actually without words, a phenomenon that rarely happens to me.  Here I was, about to reunite with dear friends, I was in Africa, I had been up at least 36 hours while traveling from Naples, and I still had good hair!  That in itself was most remarkable, and between you and me that counts for just about everything these days.  It takes something like seeing old friends on a distant continent to knock that out of first place.

We pulled up curbside, in front of their four story apartment building, and began unloading our bags.   I closed my eyes and paused for a moment to take in the humid smell of the cool evening air, interspersed with fragrant and exotic aromas of food cooking from the restaurant across the street.  I then turned and looked at the handful of steps I was going to have to navigate to get in to the lobby and lost my train of thought about the smell of the air and the food from the restaurant.  Now I was just thinking "good God I have a lot of luggage with me!"  I had not even been in Morocco for two hours before I started questioning what all I had packed.  I would continue to entertain that thought daily for the rest of the entire trip.

Caretaker of cats and chickens at Chellah Gardens, Rabat
In our excitement to get up to their fourth floor flat Veronique, Steve and I decided we would all three pile in the lift with our bags, our carry-ons and backpacks, our cameras and our purses (although Steve prefers a small clutch so that didn't really count as a space taker-upper).  Seeing as we are all about six feet tall, maybe more, this posed a load bearing risk for this tiny lift.  In fact when we arrived to their floor we had to wait for Vincent to open it from the outside as none of us could move easily enough from inside to open the door. Even getting out of the lift proved comical, as the first two of us had to extract ourselves backwards and sideways.  It reminded me so much of silly things that Veronique and I had done in our twenties and I was glad to see that we had not matured much since then.

Waiting in the hallway to give us a big hug was Antonella -- still the beautiful, dark haired Italian girl I remembered from her twenties.  She and Vincent had met right around the time I moved to Bruxelles, and they were still together and madly in love, getting close to thirty years now.  A testament to the possibility that relationships can and do endure. We all began chatting simultaneously and didn't pause for a breath until Sunday morning when we departed for Fes.
Antonella and Steve on the balcony

 After hugs we then went through the brief ritual that all of us women now do in our fifties, which is to pretend that none of us have aged a bit since we last saw each other.  "Oh my gosh, you look fantastic!  You don't even have any wrinkles, and you are so thin!"  This is one time when lying is highly recommended, but in our cases, of course, it was all true and we didn't even have to cross our fingers behind our backs.

Breakfast is served!  Fresh apricots, pastries, jams and fresh juice!

We gladly set our bags down in our respective rooms and walked out onto their large balcony.  Night had fallen, but the glow from the street lights illuminated the bright fuchsia bougainvillea that climbed out of the pots and on to the rails.  The smell of jasmine perfumed the night air, and as we looked over the balcony we could see Rabat unfolding, down this street, out over the rooftops, and beyond the hills to the faint ribbon of orange red from the remnants of sunset.

A jumbled mishmash of buildings lined each street as far as we could see.  Traffic honked and beeped and scooters rattled on by, four stories below.  Conversations drifted upwards and then floated away, and then the coolest sound I've heard began.  Something was being broadcasted live in the streets.  It sounded ancient, primitive, masculine and hypnotic.  In that moment I realized I was hearing the muezzins perform the last of the evening's call to prayer.

Mosques were in view wherever we looked, and the muezzin is the man who calls the Muslims to prayer from the minaret of a mosque.  What I also found interesting is that wires spanned from one building to another everywhere, and speakers hung from these wires.  When the prayer call went out from the mosques it was in fact being transmitted live, and it traveled from mosque to mosque, street to street, throughout the city, creating the sound of a swarm of insects that had a lot of inflection in their voices.  It was mesmerizing, and most mornings we were awake enough to hear the first call of the day, just before sunrise.

Steve and Veronique in the medina

Eventually it became part of the background and blended in with the sounds of the street, the people and life in the cities and villages. It is that sound that will always make me think of Morocco and my time spent with dear friends in a fabulous country.  I am ready to go back!
Hilly streets of the medina, Rabat Morocco

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