Today we cross the U.S. border for the first time since leaving in June, 2012. We’ll arrive back in the country of our birth tanned, ready and rested albeit a bit jet-lagged from a long day of travel. Our wonderful friends Jason and Haruka will have stocked our refrigerator with produce grown next door on their farm and have invited us for Brunch tomorrow. Happy tears of joy will flow.
Bob, in his infinite wisdom booked us five nights at the Riad Cherrata inside Marrakech’s famed Medina to give us a good rest between dismantling our home in Kumasi and setting up house in North Carolina. At first I couldn’t imagine enjoying a vacation so close to the finish line. At the time Bob bought our return tickets through Morocco I was beyond eager to put Africa behind me. The thought of stopping anywhere along the way seemed like a waste of time, an activity I wouldn’t enjoy.
Turns out he was right. As our departure time drew nearer and we found ourselves overwhelmed by logistics, awash in heart-tugging goodbyes, I began looking forward to some respite. Turns out (who knew?) this was exactly what we needed. So early Monday morning we flew into Casablanca and took the train to Marrakech. Just like in the song.
We are staying inside the walls of the Medina, the oldest part of the city. Our riad is built on a vertical plane as is everything in the Medina. The buildings rise three or more stories above the narrow streets, turning them into quaint tunnels. The walls are constructed of brick and plaster and painted the color of sunset. We sleep on the second level, breakfast on the first and sun ourselves on the rooftop.
This is a glimpse of Africa that I could not have imagined from our vantage point in Ghana. Although the narrow, winding streets of the Medina are reportedly chaotic, they seem orderly compared to Kumasi. The markets are tame compared to Kumasi’s Kejetia market with its narrow tubes of tumbling protoplasm. The Medina’s cobbled streets are wider and cleaner and the wares are of a higher quality. The other day we picked out a pair of beautifully crafted wooden boxes with tiny secret compartments and we’ve found the colorful silken Indian Pashmina scarves irresistible.
Naturally we are captivated by the donkey carts which serve as the engines of the Medina. The streets are too narrow for cars so donkeys haul vegetables in and trash out. Thanks to donkey diapers, we are not wading through piles of donkey poo. There are a few beggars but they sit silently with an outstretched hand. Cats are everywhere but we’ve yet to see one dog. Or anyone peeing against a wall.
The streets in the Medina are a pleasant mix of people lingering in beautifully carved doorways sipping sweet mint tea, gaggles of teasing school kids, speeding mopeds, bicycles, tuk tuks and pedestrians. We refer to a short stretch between the riad and our favorite restaurant as the “death trench” because sewer construction has narrowed moped traffic to one hectic lane.
The Djemaa el-Fna square has a different feel. It’s for tourists, a place we venture into to mail postcards or for tall glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice for 4 Dirham or about 50 cents. The square is where horse carts gather to pick up fares for tours around Marrakech. Here is where the snake charmers and monkey handlers hang out. Colorful wares are spread out on blankets. The vendors are more aggressive here but you can sip tea from a terrace and gaze below at the scene.
Back at the riad, the accommodations are so incredibly ideal I find myself tempted to weep. The bed, for starters, is a cloud of joy. I haven’t slept this good in a long time. Food is treated as art, almost too pretty to eat. And here at the Cherrata, the jams, yogurt and bread are home made. Everything is clean. Saadia and Izza bustle about all day doing laundry, cooking and cleaning. We carry no keys. The ladies let us out and welcome us back in and can hear our footsteps on the stairs, often beating us to the door.
The waiters we encounter when dining out are incredibly gracious. They know, without having to shuffle back into the kitchen whether or not a menu offering is unavailable. I’m reminded that wait staff can balance more than one plate in their hands at a time. It delights us to watch them pour a thin stream of hot tea into a tiny glass from two or three feet in the air.
The Marrakech Film Festival is in town and an enormous screen has been set up in the square. Bob read the Martin Scorsese introduced a showing of Hugo the other night. But no movies for us. We go out at five for dinner and walk home through newly darkened streets. Izza smiles as she opens the door to the riad and wishes us “Bon Soir!” as we tumble up the plaster stairs to our lovely four poster bed.
Our short stay in Morocco has served to lift us out of the darkness into the light. It feels more European than African. Genteel even, compared to the harshness of sub-Saharan Africa. Even the Muslim call to prayer seemed toned down compared to what we experienced in Christian Kumasi. Yes, this was exactly what we needed!