Well, I’ve done it. I have finally visited Africa, meaning I now have visited all continents (except Antartica). I can’t believe it! I got to continue with my Ramadan experiences when I visited Morocco last week. I was in both Casablanca and Agadir and was absolutely mesmerized.
First stop was Casablanca for two days. It was a very quiet drive from the airport as I didn’t arrive until midnight. That is, it was quiet until I got near the hotel. As soon as we neared the city center, I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. What was a calm, serene evening in Doha for Iftar was a loud, crowded and rambunctious affair in Casablanca. By the time I got to the hotel it was almost 1am and yet there were still tons of people, including children, hanging out in the beautiful nighttime summer air. Once up in my hotel room, I could still hear the laughter and lively conversation well into the sunrise.
The next day, I saw what a magnificent city Casablanca really was.
Those buildings. Gorgeous. Square. Interesting. Humbled by the huge mosque in the background. Almost bowing down to it.
However during the day was the complete opposite of when I had arrived at 1am – it was dead. No one could be found on the streets anywhere. I knew it was because of Ramadan but still. After the raucous welcome I was stunned at the stillness of the city.
That night I got to visit the beautiful mosque up close and personal. It was unlike any mosque I had seen before – what made it more regal was that is sat right on the coast, rising up on the cliffs from the ocean like a welcome to any travelers coming to port.
At the end of work on the second day, I got to experience the real and raw Casablanca. A colleague who I now consider a very dear friend offered to introduce me to her family and take me to a traditional hammam. And the experience began.
It started by driving with her during rush hour traffic to her family apartment. We jammed out to dance music – Arabic dance music to be exact – the entire way. Just like normal girls. In particular I loved Saad Lamjarred. My friend’s driving was impressive because I had not seen that much lane straddling since India.
Once we arrived, I had no idea what to expect. I was visiting a Muslim home in the middle of Ramadan. Was I dressed appropriately? What should I say? How should I act?
Those fears all melted away as soon as the door opened. Both her mother and father embraced me with huge hugs and kisses. It was a good opportunity to work on my French while they practiced their English. They offered me sweets even though they themselves were still fasting for the day. It was one of the most warm welcomes I had ever received. I was beyond touched and humbled.
We took a quick drive over to the hammam and came stocked with items – towels, flip flops, soap and shampoo. For this local experience we all brought our own stuff and my friend’s family was kind enough to share with me. And after having just met them! I am still in awe of their kindness.
Once inside, there was a changing area where we stripped, and then walked in all of our naked glory to the cleaning room. The Moroccan ham was different from the Turkish one in that there were no tables to sit or lay down on. We all plopped on the floor.
I couldn’t find any proper photos to do the hammam justice. It was a square room that let in natural sunlight and was covered top to bottom in tile. There were water nozzles that stuck out from the walls and large plastic buckets strewn about. It was time to get cracking. The ladies that worked at the hammam filled bucket after bucket with water and my friend and I sat next each other pouring water on ourselves. We washed our hair, we exfoliated our skin, and rinsed and rinsed. Then the ladies of the hammam all scooted over and began their scrubbing process.
The scrubbing and nasty skin removal part of this hammam was exactly the same as in Turkey. Another part that was different was the use of savon noir or black soap. It was like tar and didn’t really have a smell but instead of just straight up scrubbing, the ladies put a dab of the black soap on their mitten first. My lady kept commented in French about how sensitive my skin was – I looked like a lobster – but I loved it.
While it was odd and uncomfortable at first to be with my friend in our stark nakedness getting scrubbed, after a few moments I calmed down and enjoyed the intimacy of it. We just chatted about life as though we were sitting over coffee. I became very comfortable in my own skin which I can’t always say is the case.
Enjoying myself too much
At the end my friend and her mother even paid for me – after already letting me use their soap and towels! – and it was time to say good-bye. I was so sad! I felt like I was already a part of their family. There were lots of hugs and kisses and I of course promised to come back with my husband. There was no way I wasn’t coming back here.
Then it was off to Agadir. I took a teeny tiny plane and half a Xanax to deal with the turbulence. Arriving in Agadir reminded me so much of when I was traveling through India last November. Casablanca was like Chennai and landing in calm, beachy Agadir was like landing in Goa. The ride from the airport still involved lane straddling, but there weren’t as many cars or people in a rush in Agadir.
This was a bit longer of a ride as the hotel was in a new area of Agadir called Taghazout Bay. It was under development and was going to be a large area of commerce and hotels right on the beach. The one I visited had just recently opened.
It was difficult to appreciate the beautify of Agadir until the following morning. I woke up and opened my blinds as I was stretching and yawning, lazily pulling open one side and than the other. And then BAM.
Pool, palm trees, beach, sand, sea. Incredible. The ocean stretched out so far into the horizon that it turned into the sky.
The one night I had in Agadir I got to see the cute restaurants and ice cream shops along the piers. The small boats docked provided the music for the evening, the water lapping up against the sides of them all in rhythm. This part of Agadir reminded me of Croatia – the very friendly local people, the cheap ice cream, the smell of the sea, the flip flops and sun dresses.
I fell asleep with the windows open sad to have to leave this amazing country and place. I was just at the tip of Africa, met some great new friends, became an extension of someone’s family, had my skin scrubbed till it was raw and fell in love with an incredible country. I guess it’s kind of like the movie Casablanca right? I tried to give the country a romantic smooch upon leaving but got some questionable looks from airport security….
Here’s looking at you, kid….I’ll be back!