She held my hands tight and gazed into my eyes. Her bright eyes spoke about the sadness of having to say goodbye. Almost like she was losing a daughter. Almost like I was losing a mother. She hugged me tight and held my head with her right hand and my face was touching her beautiful silky hijab and I could hear the sadness in her tone of voice while she spoke to me words I didn’t comprehend. Then, she pulled my head back gently and held my face with both of her hands and then kissed me on the cheeks on both sides before letting go. She stood by the Hospital’s door while I walked towards the street. I walked a few steps and turned around to wave my hand one last time. She was still there, looking at me while I was leaving back for my hostel in Casablanca. She made me promise I would come back to see her.
Once on the streets, I realized I had no idea where I was. That morning, Mama Maghrebi asked me to come with her to the doctor and I complied. We took the public transportation and she paid for my fare. She did not let me pay for anything. She was too kind to me.
I saw a yellow taxi and I stopped it, I showed the driver the place where I was going to and he accepted to take me. I got to the Hostel that I am convinced it was a house. I had barely time to pick up my bags and head to the airport to take my next flight to Luxor, Egypt and as I was packing my bags, another guest in the hostel came in and introduced himself. To my surprise, he spoke Spanish and his name was Gabriel, from Argentina. He had told me he got there the night before and he was wondering whose bags were those since he hadn’t seen anyone around. I smiled and said – “It’s a long story”- and packed everything and said goodbye to him. I took a taxi and left.
Confusion everywhere, I was rushing, paid too many Dirhams to the driver and he was happy. I was happy, everyone was happy until they security checked me 3 times for holding an American passport.”Oh, you American”- The security guard said. “You come this way”- He continued. “I should have brought my other passport” – I thought. And after some back and forth between guards and some in the deep inspection of my bags, I was let in. I walked to my gate and sat there. There was still to wait a long hour before I could board my flight and I was finally at ease. At ease or should I say at “un-ease”: This time I was leaving and it felt like I was moving again but the move was greater, I was not leaving a city, I was not leaving a town, I was not leaving a campsite. I was leaving a country. Wow! I had spent 21 days in Morocco! And to be honest, It had been way more breathtaking than I had ever imagined. The cities, the people, the tourists, the merchants, the culture, the tea…. Oh, the tea!… and the Berbers, the desert, the roads, the dunes, the camels, the drivers, the food, the tajine, the temples, the palaces, Khadija, Mama Magrebhi…. Mama Maghrebi!
Suddenly, the image of her saying goodbye came back to my mind. I had arrived in Casablanca, expecting nothing but a quiet walk by the implacable Hassan II Mosque, but things never go as one expects or wishes.
The morning I got to Casablanca, I got out of the bus and said goodbye to the people I had met during the bus trip. I took a taxi to my hostel and as soon as I had briefly unpacked, I took a shower, put on fresh clothes, did some small laundry and left everything ready. The hostel I was staying at looked like a normal house and had a big pool. There were many bookshelves full of books in the living room area that reminded me of my parent’s house and the reception was a small desk crammed with papers and receipts. There was a man holding a baby walking around and the receptionist was a woman, whom I suspect was the wife of the man holding the baby. As soon as I paid, I left the hostel to take a walk by the pier.
I had walked for about 25 minutes between streets and avenues, heading towards the ocean and I finally arrived at the pier. The fresh breeze was blowing against my face and the pier was full of people that were sitting on the edge of the walls that separated the ground from the beach. I started walking slowly and from afar, I could see the beautiful Hassan II Mosque, (which is the largest Mosque in Morocco and the 13th largest in the world) standing implacably white between the ocean and the ground. The Mosque, that was built to honor King Mohammed V, was probably the most ambitious structure ever built in Morocco, designed by a French architect, and taking about 2500 construction workers that worked day and night for about the more than seven years that took to complete it. The beauty of its architecture was enchanting and the sun reflected beautifully in the turquoise mosaics that decorated the Minaret and the main building. The perfect symmetry of the Mosque was pretty to watch and while walking towards the white building, stopping from time to time to take photos, or for admiring the beauty of the ocean while hearing the waves break, someone walked by me too close that almost felt uncomfortable. He turned his face towards me and said a few words in Arabic and walked away. I ignored him and kept walking. I felt unsafe and held on to my belongings really close to me and started looking everywhere around to be aware of my surroundings. The magic of the moment had stolen away my awareness and I got the reality check: I was a woman, traveling alone through an Islamic country, where women are seen in a different way than in the western world.
I kept walking towards the Mosque and a man on a motorcycle passed by me on the sidewalk and started saying words to me. I stopped and stared at him and watched him leave. I started to get scared. I continued walking faster and suddenly I lost sight of him. I stood by the pier for a moment and a voice really close to me scared me. It was the man on the motorcycle talking to me in my ear. I screamed really loud and run away. By then I was entering the main patio of the Mosque and while walking towards the Mosque, a very old man came close to me screaming words at me. I screamed very loudly “Please leave me alone!!!”- once more and run away and everyone around me turned around. I was being tormented by people and I had no idea why. I was wearing clothes that were proper and had my face covered and my dress was long sleeve. I had no idea what I was doing wrong other than just walking.
After I took a look around the fountains and the main doors, I realized I was not going to be able to get in the Mosque since I had missed the only time when they let tourists in. I decided to keep walking past the mosque to take pictures and to look at the ocean. “Perhaps I can watch the sunset”- I thought – “It must be a pretty sunset”- while looking at the horizon, I started to walk slower, feeling the breeze blowing towards my face getting stronger and watching the waves break against the rocks. I stood by the pier on the other side of the Mosque, watching people sitting on the walls and inside of the beach of rocks and taking photos. Suddenly my attention was drawn towards a young girl and her mother, sitting on the edge of the wall talking to each other and smiling. I wished my mother was there with me and that I was able to share that exact moment with her and I wished I could have gone back in time, where my mother indeed was with me and I had all those chances to share with her that I missed because I was too angry at her.
The sweet lady was talking to her daughter in such a sweet and endearing manner that deeply touched my heart. I sat right next to them enjoying their peaceful presence and the endearing feeling I experienced while waiting for the sunset. My mind was at ease and in peace. I started taking pictures of the Mosque with the sun approaching to hide behind the building when the young girl asked me if I wanted a picture, with a beautiful french accent. I complied and jumped inside of the beach to stand on the rocks and the young girl took so many pictures of me. I was thankful and went back to sit down and keep watching the sunset.
I noticed the daughter and mother were jiggling while looking at me. The young girl finally asked me “Do you want to go to the Mosque?”- I nodded. Then, they stood up and grabbed my scarf and wrapped it around my head properly, like a Hijab should look. Then, the mother grabbed me by the arm and walked towards the Mosque holding me with one arm and holding her daughter from her other arm.
Walking inside the greatest Mosque in Morocco like if I was a local felt unreal. The beauty of its inside architecture was even more breathtaking than the outside. The exquisitely designs of its mosaic walls and fountains, the towering ceilings and the middle eastern atmosphere could certainly reflect the creativity of the ten thousand artists and craftsmen that beautified this piece of art. The entire time I was inside I did not open my mouth. I was prohibited to talk because the guards could notice I was not supposed to be there. We went outside shortly after and continued walking around the outside of the Mosque.
The sunset was beautiful and the Mosque looked even prettier with the beautiful change of colors in the sky. It was getting darker and the girl, whose name was Khadija invited me to have come with her and her mother to dinner -”You can come with us, we make tagine with tomatoes and potatoes and you can stay at our home”- The sole idea of spending the night at a real Moroccan home was so intriguing to me that I accepted their invitation. Fatima, who was the name of the mother of Khadija, started smiling and we started heading to her home.
On the way, we walked by the market in the center and Fatima bought potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and other vegetables. I tried to pay for them but she did not let me use a dirham. She kept shaking her head and pushing my hands. I was amazed at their kindness and gentleness. After we walked around the market and got everything we needed, we took a bus that took us to I have no idea where in the city. We got out from the bus and started walking in a very dark street. The houses around the area looked very modest and there was no road built around. We walked for about 5 minutes into a neighborhood and in between the dirt road and some buildings, there was a small door that led into a building of 5 floors. Fatima pulled a set of many keys and opened the door and welcomed me. We went upstairs and every floor had a door that was locked and she seemed to have the keys on her. She kept unlocking every door to show me her home. One of the floors was a beautiful living room with Moroccan furniture and the ceiling was beautifully decorated with paintings and cravings. I could not have imagined the inside would look like that by looking at the home from the outside. One of the floors had a bathroom, which she kept locked too. I thought that was funny.
Eventually, we made it to the top floor and where Fatima and Khadija had their bedrooms and where the kitchen was. I sat on their small living room and Khadija kept me entertained while Fatima started cooking. I tried to offer my help but she did not let me help.
Khadija told me about her dad and that he worked for the airport and that day he had a night shift. She also told me she was trying to learn English and she showed me her room and gave me a very pretty bracelet as a gift.
Fatima called us for dinner and she placed the tajine in the middle of the table. In that exact moment, a young boy walked in and Khadija introduced him as his brother. He sat and had dinner with us. We all ate from the same tajine pot with some bread while dipping the bread in the tajine pot. Dinner was delicious and Fatima served Moroccan tea in such an impeccable manner.
After dinner, she gave me some clothes to wear to sleep. Khadija was always translating since Fatima could not speak English but mostly Arabic. Fatima took my hand and led me to the lower floor, where the beautiful living room full of gorgeous Moroccan furniture was. She pointed at a sofa and made signs of sleeping with her hands. I complied. Right before she left she pointed at herself and said “Mama Maghrebi” and then she pointed at me and she said “daughter”, gazing at me with endearing eyes. I smiled, my heart smiled.
Khadija then came running to me to say goodnight and gave me a big hug and kissed me. I went to sleep after that. The next morning Khadija was gone. She went to school early and Mama Maghrebi was making some tea. She came to wake me up and took me to the bathroom door that she unlocked for me, then, after I changed back into my clothes, She took me to the top floor and sat down in the living room once more. To my surprise, in that moment, her husband arrived from work. He had been working all night at the airport and was just making it back home.
He shook my hand gently and smiled at me. Then, he looked at the table as I was drinking tea and told some words to Mama and then he went in his bedroom. Mama looked like she was in a hurry and signaled me to wait for her while she left briefly to come back with a bag full of pastries and pieces of bread that she gave me for breakfast. Her sweet husband had told her to buy me pastries as I was a guest for their home. I could not believe the great kindness and hospitality of the sweet family I got to know by chance in the beautiful city of Casablanca.
Mama Maghrebi left with me that morning to the hospital and held my hand like if I was her daughter. I smiled. My heart smiled. I missed my mother dearly.