Morocco remains in a very special pocket in my heart.
Morocco remains in a very special pocket in my heart. This week, I’ll be going back there as a different woman. A better one, I certainly hope.
In 2009, I was already living in Paris. On weekends, I often hung out with a group of close knit French-Moroccan friends. Imagine Asian-Americans living in Silicon Valley. They barely understood Arabic, but they would practice Ramadan every year and head back to Morocco when summer vacations arrived. One of my very good friends at the time invited me to stay with her family in the northern surfer town of Kenitra where our Parisian friends met up. The next week, three of us rented a car and road tripped southbound all the way to the Saraha Desert where we camped.
It wasn’t my first time in an Arabic country. Two years prior, I visited Dubai with my family where luxury was the norm. Kenitra, Morocco was very much a culture shock. For a week, I slept on cement grounds where I woke up with children staring at me when I opened my eyes in the morning. We attended local weddings in stone houses where I learned how to belly dance in thick, gorgeous but sweaty garments. Everyday, I ate couscous made from aunties’ bare hands inked by henna. The aroma would take over a three-story house, one that harbored memories of our meditative moments on the rooftop as prayer call echoed through town.
In Mandarin, we say: 人情 or ren-qin. Two characters literally translate to: people sentiment. But for us, the latter character goes beyond “sentiment.” It’s love, it’s affection, it’s feeling, it’s kindness. It’s often described between strangers. Admittedly, I had rarely experienced ren-qin in Western cultures. I grew up in one culture which still focuses primarily on “I” and “Me.” In Kenitra during my first week in Morocco, however, I felt ren-qin. I embraced kindness and love from my friend’s family, aunties, nieces and nephews in a house often permeated with noise. During the day, my Parisian life somehow transported to sunny beaches with camels making a daily cameo. At night, we often cleaned up and gathered in somebody’s parents’ house for group dinners. I laughed until I cried, with Michael Jackson on repeat (he had just passed away the week before.)
MJ and his 50+ tunes accompanied our road trip during my second week in Morocco. We ran through the plaza in front of the giant mosque in Casablanca, shopped in Marrakech’s famous bazaars, had fun posing in Majoelle Garden, visited my friend’s long lost auntie in a tiny village with a population of 400 people. Then, I got diarrhea on our way to Ouarzazate – you know, where Gladiator was filmed. With my stomach in full swing ugliness, we rode camels 3 hours deep into the desert where we camped underneath the Arabian stars.
My tales of this Arabian journey will go into a future project I’m currently working on. But before I head back to such a special destination, I wanted to share a bit of why Morocco rest enormously personal in my soul. On an unequivocally authentic trip, I grew as a woman. For the first time, I understood what it meant to submerse yourself into local culture. Wholeheartedly. No judgement. Accepting everything handed to you before your eyes and EXPERIENCE the hell out of it.
Oddly enough, I never felt outside of my comfort zone. I simply appreciated every bit of it, because all I felt was pure kindness. I was always aware that what I went through was momentarily. The stars serendipitously aligned in a way that I, of all the Taiwanese girls who partly grew up in America, was the one who was there.
I still remember being in that 400-people village, when my friend’s aunt asked whether I wanted milk in my coffee. After I nodded my head with a smile, the glass returned to the table whiffing of the cattle outside. I realized Shakira – the family cow – just offered some cream in my cafe. Now, do you see why this trip forever grounded me as a human being?
Hello again, my lucky Arabian stars.