Memories of Morocco

Katya Schwenk
May 31, 2019

What my grandmother remembers best about Morocco is the moment she stepped off the ferry at the port of Tangier. I can imagine what she saw, because it’s hardly changed since the 1960s: a white city on a hill, shadowing the sea, its buildings glinting like porcelain in the sun, or the insides of oyster shells. As she stood and gazed at it all, she was swarmed by the insistent vendors who wait at the road that runs by the docks for tourists to stumble off the boats, offering them taxi rides and trinkets.

She was not much older than me and had decided on a quick excursion to North Africa after touring through Europe. That was more than 50 years ago. But she won’t forget that moment, she said.

In January, I too arrived in Tangier by boat and was greeted by a crowd of yelling guides and taxi drivers. The city was before me, new and strange and breathtaking. But my four months in Morocco have run out, it seems. Now I am at home, writing this from a quiet cafe in western Massachusetts. My grandmother will be here next week. And I am thinking a lot about memory.

I spent my final weekend in Morocco in Tangier as well, actually. By chance, a friend of mine was flying there to start her own travels, and I joined her there. It was strange to revisit the city that had welcomed me to the country as I prepared to leave. In January, I had felt twin senses of wonder and terror as I walked through its wide boulevards, its narrow alleys. There was so much to come. By the time I returned, I walked less in awe, and more boldly (though still got lost in Tangier’s labyrinthine ancient city six separate times).

As I struggle to neatly sum up my time abroad in conversation with friends and family (attempting and failing to reach that tricky middle ground between “It was great!” and an hours-long play-by-play of the semester), I’ve started to wonder what I’ll remember of Morocco in a decade, or five. Today, I am awash with memories of my time there: gulls dipping at the Tangier beaches, men selling raspberries at the gate of Rabat’s old city, the jingles that played every day on TV, the view of the courtyard from my office. Memories fade, though. What will stay with me?

That’s the trouble with travel—you’re left, often, with a lot of the insubstantial. I can quantify the four months if I try: 1,394 photos, 107 days, four classes, et cetera. That falls flat, doesn’t it? Or I could arrange before me the gifts and knick-knacks I brought home, can hold in my hands here in New England, so far away: a silver teapot, an orange scarf, tile fragments I found on a beach, a trilobite fossil. They’re lovely, but they don’t add up to much of anything.

It’s difficult to pay any kind of decent tribute to my time in such a stunning, complicated place—to the relationships I made, the words I learned, the tea I drank. It’s hard to make it a story. If I could, though, I know where I’d start it: Staring up at Tangier from the docks, into the blinding white unknown.

Katya Schwenk

<p>I'm at junior at Georgetown, studying government, creative writing, and Arabic. I grew up in Vermont and Massachusetts. Interests include (but are not limited to!) radio, poetry, hiking, and beekeeping.</p>

2019 Spring
Home University:
Georgetown University
Amherst, MA
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