"Western Africa 2012" story # 33

Rabat, Morocco           November 22, 2012

Until falling in love with Tida in Guinea-Bissau, I would've said that my favorite girl from this trip was a Moroccan I'd met during my two days in Rabat.
     But, the Moroccan capital had given me more reasons to revisit it than that ...
     Re-reading my story I'd written about Rabat in the summer, I realized that living in this city was an experience I'd wanted to have. I cringed to read that I'd missed out on this opportunity due to the travel restrictions imposed on me by my Mauritanian visa. If I wanted to remain the master of my own destiny, I ought to return to Rabat. I ought to live there. I ought to make amends.
     Secondly, I knew I'd already spent a month and a half in Morocco. If I'd spend another month and a half there, this would make for a good "thrump" (three-month stay). Addition had always been one of my strong points.
     I'd wanted to do my Northwest African thrump in Algeria, not Morocco. But, Algeria was difficult to get to. And I'd read somewhere that, "It's the decisions we make that determine how our lives go." By deciding to do a Moroccan thrump, I was making things easier on myself. The two neighboring countries had similar cultures, anyway. And I could always visit Algeria some day in the future, too.
     Thus, I was excited to fly from Guinea-Bissau to Morocco. My decision to fly instead of travel overland was based on the fact that I was way, way, way too tired to travel through Senegal and the Sahara again. I'd just turned thirty-three. I was an old man now. If I didn't shave for a day, you could see white in my goatee.
     After arriving in Rabat, I made sure I was cleanly shaven and went to see the girl I liked. She was called, Zineb.
     She had darkish Moroccan skin and yellowish curly hair. She worked in a gym, where she took part in the boxing exercises.
     She calmly stared me in the eyes, remembering me from the picture of my basketball team I'd given her this summer. I liked girls so confident they made me feel uneasy. I also felt uneasy because Zineb and I could hardly speak a common language. Once, she thought I was asking her out when I wasn't. But, I was okay with that. And so, we set a date.
     Preparing for this date, I put on my bright orange West African shirt decorated with birds. "Is this okay?" I asked my German neighbor.
     I'd worn this same shirt, and the comfortable matching pants, while I'd flown to Morocco. During a lay-over in a European airport, I noticed everyone around me was wearing black or brown or jeans, and no one wanted to talk to anyone. I wasn't in Guinea-Bissau anymore - where a party of limbo dances, congo lines, and pop singing performances had spontaneously erupted on my final ferry ride. No one in Europe was wearing a West African suit. I must've looked like the weird leader of a deranged cult.
     In Rabat, the young German didn't hesitate. She laughed and said, "It's great."

"youth smiles without any reason. It is one of its chiefest charms." - Oscar Wilde

I confidently went to meet Zineb in front of "L-Bab Le-Kbir" (The Big Gate). This huge door, with its wavy outline, seemed as if it could only have been carved into the sandy, orange medina walls by a rough sea.
     I had plenty of time to study the decorate carvings surrounding this opening. Zineb left me waiting a long time, in my bright orange bird shirt. Bird-Man. She never came.
     The following day, I went to set another date with her. She stood me up again.
     And that was how she came to be my least-favorite girl from this trip.
     But, it didn't matter.
     I was happy in Rabat. I'd paid 2700 dirham ($300) to rent a room for one month in the old medina. I had running water and electricity; the locals left me alone; and I could buy cheese here. Life was as comfortable as if I were in my own home. And yet, it was still exotic.
     On a typical day, I exited the house of my landlord Ishem, through a heavy turquoise door decorated with white bolt-heads.
     I entered alleys, surrounded by medina buildings of different sizes, all square like kids' building blocks. In this special part of the medina where I lived, the buildings were painted sky blue to chest-level, and white on top. These clean colors reminded one that the ocean was on the other side of the medina walls.
     These same colors led me through tunnels beneath buildings and downwards down steps. I came to an open-air cafe beside a calm river. I passed through here to the medina gardens, which smelled of roses and were enclosed by spiky-topped fortress walls.
     I exited my medina, crossed a city street, and entered Rabat's bigger and busier medina.
     Shopkeepers and their shops offered passersby the most wonderful Moroccan products.
     Small rugs and large carpets hung before the first big shop. The rugs were dark purple, bright red, pale tan, etc. The most common decorative pattern was of diamonds growing bigger while surrounding different-colored diamonds, and forming the "Evil Eye".
     Four "Evil Eyes" decorated one large carpet, which was otherwise full of tiny rectangles filled with patterns. Light colors, such as peach, alternated with dark colors. The carpet was an optical illusion for me to get lost in. If the shopkeeper were to invite me to a complimentary glass of mint tea while discussing business, he might've sold me this one.
     Beneath the hand-crafted rugs, sturdy black or brown chests sat - perfect for locking up my fortune inside. They sat on short, round stools made of shapes and patterns one would expect to find on a circus elephant. Bronze chandeliers and silver daggers and blue-and-white china tea sets were displayed, behind glass.
     Next to this big shop was a huge shop in which dull, dusty, antique carpets - big enough to fill entire living rooms - hung everywhere.
     But, most shops occupied only small corners of this crowded medina. Walking on, I came to more products I saw little use for but wanted nonetheless.
     Soft, rounded baskets were made of what seemed to be camel wool. Their insides were painted with purple-and-camel, or red-and-camel, kaleidoscope designs. Turned upside-down, these sturdy baskets may've been good for sitting on?
     Stained glass and wavy metal had been used to create lamps, which took the forms of large lizards or formless Salvador Dali pyramids, and were for sale in what I'd call "alchemist wizards' shops". Spiky holes characterized the metal framing of birdhouse-shaped chandeliers and spiky complex stars, making them resemble Medieval cages or torture devices.
     Musical instruments for sale included gourd-shaped drums and tambourines. A pale carpet I saw was decorated with colorful camels and birds. A jewelry shop displayed broad golden tiaras with green gems in their centers, which were probably worn around young brides' waists?
     What must've been an Arabic lingerie shop had colorful dresses for sale, in which the stomachs and arms and chests were only outlined, by hanging strings and dangling glittery discs.
     Everyday clothes were for sale, too. And they were modelled by everyday people throughout the medina.
     One young woman wore bright purple and yellow: a purple head-covering, a yellow robe decorated with purple babies' rattles, and purple pants underneath giving way to yellow poofy slippers. She would've been a good match for the Bird-Man.
     Another woman wore a hooded, black robe with three stripes at its bottom: one light-yellow, one orange, and one green. These three colors subtly made up the stitching on her shoulders and the hood.
     And I saw two old men wearing white robes and hats as simple as sheets, and very white beards.
     Leaving the part of the medina where clothes were sold, I came to the food. Fast-food merchants sold sandwiches with fried eggplant, fried egg, fried peppers, fried fish, and falafel. Other stalls displayed heaping piles of Moroccan fruits and nuts.
     One day, I'd gone to the medina and spent $11. I came home happily with dates, figs, almonds, dried pineapple rings, tomatoes, olive oil, flat Moroccan bread, and milk.
     On a typical day, I turned away from the busy streets and walked home through the quieter but more labyrinthine streets of the medina.
     In places, the white city was painted dark gray or blood red to chest-level. Numerous arches leapt between buildings over my head. I came to hidden-away Islamic schools, barbershops, and small tailors' shops. I came to a white-bearded man wearing white sheets, seated on his door-step. In this city where strangers never greeted one another, he greeted me ever-so-happily. "Bonjour. Bonne voyage!"
     I returned to my medina and my house. I was ready to take part in one of my favorite activities here. I went to sit on my landlord Ishem's rooftop terrace. I watched the ocean waves striking the pier below me, relaxed, and enjoyed the sun.

be well,
Modern Oddyseus

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