We climbed up the staircase with colorful ceramic tile designs lining the narrow walls and we emerged into the bright sunshine of the restaurant roof. Three black cats played in a patch of shade as my 4 girlfriends and I tried to hide from the sun that hovered over us with what seemed like all its blazing might.
A Chefchaouen Square was spread before us. Some open markets sat below the balcony of the restaurant, the mountains stood to our left, and one of the old town mosques was directly across the street. Within 5 minutes, the prayer call began.
The streets remained tranquil, the town, like the heat, was stagnant. The call flew through the small streets and bounced off the blue and white walls, which I would find out were much cooler than where we sat. I dove into the green olives in front of me hoping they would sustain my hunger and prepare my taste buds for my next Moroccan dining experience, although I was not disappointed from the night before.
It was Friday, and that meant Cous Cous, or so our waiter had told us the previous night. They only ate the dish on Fridays. We thought how strange it was that a dish so coveted, to us, as something so traditionally Moroccan, was only served one day of the week. I craved the little sticky orbs, and now, I would have some of a higher quality and not poured out of a plastic bag or alongside a plop of American butter.
After the customary patient conversation, ubiquitous during a meal in Spain, we wondered, truly, if we had been forgotten up there on that roof. We had a city tour soon and worried we would be waiting all day for our lunch and keep our guide waiting. But eventually after we downed the last drops of our Coke Zeros, we were served the sweetest and most flavorful Vegatable Cous Cous to accompany our Chicken Tagine.
We had not been forgotten and were reminded that meal time is not just a quick energy booster before the activities of the day, but something more special. Our guide had told us earlier that Friday is a special day for prayer, and we later learned, Cous Cous is prepared all day, in and out of the times for prayer, and ready to serve to the whole family that afternoon.
With the last pieces of our bread rolls, served in abundance at each meal, we scraped the platters clean. It was worth the wait and we made sure no Cous Cous was left behind.
The rest of the day, we meandered through the streets following our guide as he so patiently waited as we took pictures on far too many blue staircases. But it was impossible not to. Chefchaouen, which our guide had referred to as “shower”, was the perfect experience for anyone who appreciates a cool complementary color and charm. The cities walls, so famously seen in Facebook videos and travel Instagrams, not only keep the mosquitos away, but stand as a symbol of the sky and heaven reminding passersby to lead a spiritual life. My eyes were constantly spinning as they looked up through the small paths of the medina. I thought that given the amount of cats lazily laying in the shade outside that there must be at least four cats per Chefchaouen citizen.
The Tangier breeze that met us on Saturday so effortlessly spun around our cab as we drove through the mountains of the American district, referred to as “Small California”, to Cap Spartel, where the Mediterranean ocean meets the Atlantic. I had seen Morocco by foot, by a camel named Sabrina, and by car.
Every person we met would speak to us in Spanish, which was a refreshing compliment to us after misunderstandings in the French and Arabic we had heard before. With the exception of our guide, we heard very little English. It could be stressful at time getting a cab or explaining our dinner orders to waiters. We simply felt different. I realized how far I was from the familiar and yet how intrigued I was of the unknown.
It was experience set on the details. Almost every crevice of both Tangier and Chefchaouen seemed to have at least one colorful tile placed within the edges of the doorways, and while passing by the new street vendors who promised their rendition of the camel keychain would be “student discounted”, we would peer into the tapestry shops, the weavers, and pass the spice bags that flourished through the walls that seemed to be 4 ft apart at times.
The market I’ll remember, because of the floor of the fish market and the way my shoes slid over the slippery white ceramic as I tried to weave in and out of the shouting fish traders. I’ll also remember the fresh scent of olives which I saw stacked in shiny pyramids near the entrance and the feeling of regret I felt when I didn’t buy a handful. Our guide joking with 2 men peeling potatoes into a pan as they asked if we would like to eat with them, showing us a scaly fish head which peered up at us with yes, its eyes, still, wide open. We were constantly on the move to the next thing as we followed our enthusiastic guide.
I would describe my Moroccan experience in two words: sensory overload. The refreshing shade of the Blue City’s walls and the unidentified smells of the Tangier market were overwhelmingly different than anything I had witnessed before, and my senses seemed to be working in overdrive to absorb it all. Yet looking back, I can remember each sight and smell so distinctly. I found Morocco to be a place where the smallest details could go unnoticed if I didn't catch them, and I'm glad I did.
The next time I find myself waiting for lunch to reach my hungry mouth, for a delayed metro line, or a slower walker on the street on the way to class, it will just be a reminder that I need to slow down, stop, and smell the olives, or perhaps, buy some for the road.
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Mary Katherine Prehn
<p>I grew up in San Antonio, Texas and by the 3rd grade I knew I loved speaking Spanish. While my skills have come from learning the colors of the rainbow to reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Spanish culture and language has always been a part of my education. Both English and Spanish have been clear interests of mine throughout my adolescence, and both allow me to communicate in different ways while stretching to understand what is around me.</p>