I am completely spoiled – relaxing by the pool, on a hammock or at a spa and doing absolutely nothing are some of my favorite pastimes when I am away (and when I am at home – the doing nothing part). However, when I travel to a new country or even a city nearby, I also want to see how the local people live. I don’t want to go on vacation and stay inside an all-inclusive the entire time. To me, the perfect vacation is to spend a few days at a place right in the heart of it all and then finishing off the trip with a 4 or 5-Star hotel stay, at somewhere secluded, and totally getting pampered. I ended up finding a little bit of both at a private paradise in Marrakech.
While at Quaryati, a private estate about 45 minutes away from the city, Ali (pronounced Alley – short for Alison) and I went for a stroll outside the compound. We thought we’d get a little bit more exercise, catch up on each other’s lives and see what was around. We had just finished yoga class and my hair was flying every which way so, I definitely looked crazy, but I didn’t care. I quickly grabbed my camera, tied a large scarf around my neck to cover my shoulders and then we were off.
We honestly didn’t expect to see much because when we drove into the town it was pretty desolate. On our walk, we passed some sheep (with which I had a staring contest – I lost) and a man carrying a really large bunch of what looked like straw or hay. Once we were about a mile away, we saw a random red door: part of a wall, an open space and then this scratched up, yet very detailed red door.
The donkey was what initially caught my eye. He stood in the distance, just past the doorway, not moving, staring straight ahead. It was just random, one lone donkey in the middle of nowhere. So, we walked closer and then heard laughter. As we stepped forward, we realized that hidden, perfectly behind the door and partial wall, were boys playing soccer while girls clumped together, watched, chatting and laughing. We stood and observed them for a while when they noticed us. They stopped for a few seconds, stared, waved hello and then the hand motions turned from waves of greetings to them summoning us to come over and so we did.
There was an immediate rush. The girls quickly surrounded us and began to speak as if they had a million questions and even more things to tell us. I believe they were speaking Berber (member of the Afroasiatic language family and indigenous to North Africa). Munyah did most of the talking. She was tall, lean, soft-spoken and like most of the other children had a smooth, olive skin tone. Their skin color ranged from a medium brown to the lightest hues. Munyah was determined to share everything with us and sometimes got frustrated when she wasn’t able to communicate as effectively as she hoped. Ali knew a few words in Arabic and a little French, but it didn’t really help and it wasn’t really necessary. We didn’t need a language to communicate because it was happening naturally.
Within 30 seconds of being there, I turned around and Ali had jumped into the game and was giving these future soccer players a run for their money. I could tell they were initially surprised, by the fact that she was playing and that she was actually good. They quickly realized that they had to step up their game.
The mothers of some of the kids came over and joined us. There was more pseudo-sign language, more shrugged shoulders, and more laughter.
I then taught all the kids how to run a short distance race. Ohhhh, they were so serious. They immediately knew that this was a competition and were concentrating so well. They paid close attention and followed my hand gestures and body language. They were listening and watching with intent. They couldn’t understand, but they understood. There were a few false starts and I had to recall the race once or twice but on my last “On your marks! Get set! Go,” they ran their little hearts out. Someone stepped on my foot, another kid pushed me out of the way – they definitely took it seriously and had a blast. Needless to write, I lost.
Afterward, they invited us to their homes on the other side of the field and showed us their cattle, a home they were building and where they slept. The floor of their room was completely covered with a variety of traditional Berber rugs – hand-woven with rich colors. As a sign of hospitality, they served us Maghrebi mint tea (known to the locals as Berber Whiskey) and Khubz (round Arabic bread), both of which are a staple in Morocco. They proudly presented the treats on a colorful ceramic serving tray. We sat on the floor and hung out a while longer before heading out. We promised that we would come back and we did two days later before we headed back to the city. We even brought our friend Amy and of course a few goodies and gifts.
It’s crazy because I wouldn’t have ever entered the home of someone I didn’t know in America, but I didn’t give it a second thought and I have no regrets. There was no fear. Instead, there was a bond – a connection from the start. I couldn’t tell you how because we didn’t speak the same language and I couldn’t explain why because it just happened.
On that final day, as we headed back to Quayarti, they walked with us for a while and waved good-bye as we disappeared into the distance. I’m not sure if they enjoyed our visits as much as we did, but I’d like to think that they did. I truly enjoyed hanging with Munyah, Meyzhet, Hahzar, Sheyma, Reihab and the other locals in this small town. This is an experience that I will never forget.